Biophysical Newsletter - April 2014





having difficulty finding a postdoctoral fellow- ship in industry, she was able to secure a postdoc position at UCLA under the supervision of Igor Spigelman . She stayed in this position for only three months, but while there, she did some pre- liminary research “on the effects of alcohol and radiation on GABA activity via electrophysiolog- ical slice recordings,” she explains. The knowl- edge she acquired and the expertise of the people she worked with in Spigelman’s lab made her, as she says, “a more well-rounded scientist, with an expanded skillset and stronger foundation.” Following this position, Minassian started an industrial postdoc fellowship at Janssen Phar- maceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, as part of the ion channel group in the neurosci- ence team. At Janssen, she worked under Alan Wickenden on drug discovery for central nervous system disorders, ranging from disorders of mood and cognition to pain. “My mechanistic focus was on ion channels as targets for treat- ments of the nervous system, utilizing electro- physiology, cell-based assays, radioactive binding assays and cell culture as tools for investigation,” Minassian says. She also collaborated with onsite teams from other therapeutic areas, including Centocor Biologics Research and Computer- Aided Development and Design (CADD), as well as external partners. After finishing up her postdoc at Janssen, Minassian recently started as a senior scientist at Pfizer, in the Integrative and Circuit Neurosci- ence group in the Neuroscience Research Unit. At Pfizer, she will be evaluating how compounds affect single cell and networking activity. In this position, as in any research position, she will face difficulties when experiments do not go as planned, but she knows that these challenges serve as a great source of inspiration. “There are times I will try to patch cells all day and not get a successful electrophysiological recording until the end of the day. It can get frustrating,” she says, “ However, the fantastic reward comes when the experiment works, when you get that beautiful recording from a neuron or a trans- fected cell, when you see an effect from a treat- ment added to a cell or get a beautiful image on a confocal microscope. That is the reward that

keeps me motivated to keep trying and trouble- shooting and working…..this fascinating result. That result opens the path for multiple pathways of exploration and you keep finding new ways to investigate a scientific question.” Yi Liu , Minassian’s mentor at Janssen, admires the dedication Minassian has demonstrated in- working through frustration in order to progress in her research. He recalls a time when Minas- sian was developing a particular experimental method for a project, and “despite numerous at- tempts she had made under various conditions, no significant progress seemed in sight. Several times, it was suggested, quite reasonably, that she move on to other assay formats.” Minassian was convinced that this method was of critical importance to the project, and that her approach was sound, so she refused to change tactics. Liu remembers, “She continued to experiment, ‘stubbornly’ expanding into conditions previ- ously dismissed as being unlikely to work. Sure enough, that is where she eventually found the answer.” When she is not working hard in the lab, Minas- sian tries to take advantage of her new home in the Boston area by trying out local restaurants. According to her former colleague Amy Shih , Minassian had a great depth of knowledge in this area when living in San Diego, “Natali al- ways knew of the best places to eat. At one point [during our postdoc at Janssen] she emailed out a listing of some top restaurant choices, and I still occasionally refer to that list for dining op- tions.” Minassian also enjoys seeing live music, and indulging her creative side by making jew- elry and painting. Minassian wants to remind those just starting out in their careers to engage with their own creativity in the lab. She says, “Pursue your crazy ideas. Before you become saddled in dogma and what you can’t do, just try to do what no one may have ever done before. Assume the rules are just suggestions.”

Minassian with her parents at her graduation ceremony.

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