Postdoc Profile: Ruben Oganesyan, MD

Celebrating National Postdoc Appreciation Week

In recognition of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, we’re recognizing some of the talented postdoctoral researchers who make invaluable contributions to science and medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital every day.  Today’s profile features Ruben Oganesyan, MD, a tissue engineer in the Center for Engineering in Medicine.

Ruben Oganesyan, MD

When someone experiences a life-threatening injury or illness, a new organ from an organ donor may sometimes be necessary, but organs are not always readily available.

Ruben Oganesyan, MD, is working in tissue engineering at the Center for Engineering in Medicine to help with the donor organ shortage. His research goals focus primarily on solving the donor organ shortage for patients with the end stage liver disease via tissue engineering technology.

The prevalence of end stage liver diseases increases every year and liver transplantation remains the only treatment option. Unfortunately, organ transplantation has some limitations, such as autoimmune transplant rejection and donor shortage.

His group’s work, led by Basak Uygun, PhD, is focused on the removal of all the immunogenic components from a donor organ by decellularizing it.

This results in a non-immunogenic acellular collagen matrix, like a blank canvas, which is then repopulated with a given recipient’s cells. The goal is to transform non-compatible donor livers into regenerated livers that match the patient’s immune system, thus eliminating the need to give immunosuppressive drugs after transplant.

“We hope that our research will give patients with end stage organ failure their own personalized regrown organ ‘from a petri dish.’”

Ruben Oganesyan, MD

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

The first experiment I conducted was a perfusion of an acellular liver. After the decellularization procedure we used a transparent collagen scaffold, which plays a structural role in the recellularization process.

The liver is then repopulated with cells for functionality. To do so, we need a bioreactor system, which I customized and assembled for the experiment. I wasn’t sure that my system would work properly, stay sterile, and not leak.

It was my first time doing hands-on work for this project and I was very nervous being given such a huge responsibility! Thankfully, everything worked perfectly and I got my preliminary results, which laid the foundation for the future protocol optimization and better outcomes.

Looking back, I understand that the procedure was pretty simple, but at that moment it demanded extreme focus. A year has passed, but that experience will stay in my heart for the rest of my life.

What advice would you give a first-year postdoc?

I am confident that a postdoc who has been accepted to work at Mass General/Harvard Medical School has a brilliant mind and has great potential in research and his or her career. But it is so easy to forget about life itself in this productive and extremely competitive environment!

Don’t spend the whole day in the lab. At some point, an hour of a rest will be more fruitful than a few hours of hard work and becoming completely exhausted.

Boston is a beautiful city, there are a lot of museums, concert halls and exhibition centers, which you can easily visit as a member of Harvard community!

Go for it, acquire new impressions, meet new people, not only because of your work, but because it’s so important for your overall well-being.

What is your favorite book about science?

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Phillips Feynman is my favorite scientific book that I always recommend to my summer students.

In 1965, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Richard Feynman had a great sense of humor and in this book, he tells stories of his life, shares memories about his research and career and also sheds light on the lives of successful scientists in the field of physics during World War II.

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

I usually watch movies which were awarded prizes from Cannes, Sundance and Berlin film festivals. They are usually not scientific, but they cover a broad spectrum of societal dilemmas.

I really like “Dead Poets Society” by Peter Weir with Robin Williams as the lead. This movie tells a story about relationships between a group of young and ambitious men and their literature teacher, who tries to inspire them to live their lives fully. “О Captain! my Captain!”

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