Postdoc Profile: Anna Khimchenko, PhD

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”

Anna Khimchenko
Anna Khimchenko, PhD

Anna Khimchenko, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow conducting interdisciplinary, translational research in the Tearney Laboratory at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She is focused on evolving micro-optical coherence tomography (μOCT) imaging capabilities to address the needs of the cystic fibrosis (CF) community.

Medical signs of CF result from changes in the viscoelastic properties of the mucus. Dr. Khimchenko is using the high-resolution imaging capabilities of μOCT—capable of providing real-time, cellular resolution images of the airways—combined with advanced particle-tracking microrheology to gather crucial information on the detailed functional microanatomy of the pulmonary system.

The hope is that advancing in vivo imaging capabilities will lead to a better understanding of respiratory diseases and help in developing new treatment strategies aimed at decreasing mucus viscosity.

“I firmly believe that an image can tell more than a thousand words. And this is particularly true for the medical field, where what we see strongly correlates with (dis)function. In my daily life, I am working to make the complexity of life visible. My dream is to develop a technology that enables seeing the cosmos of a human body in vivo.”

What is the first experiment you ever conducted in the lab? How did it turn out?

My first real exposure to research came in summer 2010. I had the good fortune to be accepted for a summer project to The Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre at the University of Cambridge, UK, and work under the supervision of Dr. Alison Sleigh.

The research was in the field of (f)MRI and the first experiment was related to the data acquisition and analysis. I understand now that I was working with a single imaging system, but at the time it felt like I was on the command bridge of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. The blinking of the devices and the quiet hum of the servers, plus the opportunity to work on something that can change people’s lives, was very exciting.

Looking back, I understand that the task was easy, but at that moment it demanded all my knowledge and will. Many years have passed, as well as many research labs and exceptional mentors, but that experience will stay in my heart for the rest of my life.

What science movies (dramas/comedies/documentaries) do you like and why?

As I am curious by nature, nothing can get me more excited than challenging new topics and expanding horizons. In my eyes, this is the main idea of the science fiction media franchise Star Trek. Of course, the science in the movie is not authentic, but it helped me to understand that I want to be a ‘discoverer’ — a researcher. I hope that this spirit will continue encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs of a brave new world.

What advice would you give a first-year postdoc?

Scientific research is complex and often not straightforward. Thus, one needs to be smart, well-organized and hardworking to be successful. So, work hard, learn new things each minute, try to become better each day, and you will be acknowledged.

As we all know, “Chance favors the prepared mind” (Louis Pasteur).  

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