Eleni Antoniadou

University College London, UK

Bioengineering

Principal Investigator: Dr. Richard Boyle

Education and Experience:

I think of myself as a futurist and a hybrid scientist which is the result of acquiring a multidisciplinary education. As a researcher, I’m trying to understand the changes in life sciences and to enjoy challenging myself with problems in the fields of regenerative medicine, the development of artificial organs, bioengineering, and space exploration.

I was blessed to be born in the land of light, Greece, where philosophy, art, politics and literature thrived and became the roots of modern science. Philosophy means the “love of wisdom” and this has been my guiding force in my journey to knowledge. My interest in space stems as far back as grade school, but it was not until high-school that I began to get actively involved in aerospace clubs and taking piloting classes. My first astronomy class, at the age of 15, was an extra fuel for the fire that has driven me through my life to become a scientist and has motivated me to chase my dream to become an astronaut and leave the confines of our beautiful planet to set foot on another celestial body.

In 2009, I graduated from the University of Central Greece with a Bsc in Computer Science and Biomedical Informatics with a senior thesis on the development of a real-time novel cardiac patient telemonitoring system via wireless sensors under the supervision of As. Prof. Ilias Maglogiannis. During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to be involved and publish some interesting findings from several projects in computer-integrated telesurgery, robotic dexterity enhancement of telesurgical appliances, brain computer interface and RFID technology for preventive healthcare and medical monitoring in space.

Keeping up an inquisitive and explorative attitude, I believe, leads to a constant learning process. This approach adds to the already immense potential for innovation that exists in the field of space exploration and preservation of life. My passion for innovative technologies and projects that can significantly change the lives of people and shape the future led me to study the development of artificial organs and acquire a masters in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at the University College of London (UCL). As a graduate student, I worked on developing tissue engineered nerves for people that have suffered severe injuries and are in need of artificial transplants and brain implants for patients with disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases. My Msc thesis research involved the development of diamonds and carbon nanotubes via chemical vapor deposition and their integration into novel biomaterials for biomedical applications. This challenging project fostered the collaboration between the Royal Free Hospital of London, UCL Medical School, the London Center for Nanotechnology and Imperial College and gave me the opportunity to interact with some of the greatest minds in the field.

While in the medical school of the University College of London, I worked with my classmate Claire Crowley for Prof. Alexander Seifalian on the development of a tissue engineered trachea that was mimicking the properties of its real counterpart. This graduate project was the winner of the Translation to Clinic and to Commercialization of Nanotechnology Products Competition in UCL and was shortly after implanted into a 36 year old patient, Andemariam Teklesenbet, who suffered from late stage tracheal cancer. This case was the first successful artificial organ transplantation in the history of medicine and proved the potential that regenerative medicine holds for future transplantation therapies.

My genuine interest in research and knowledge has led me into the pursuit of a PhD in Bioengineering degree at the University of Illinois after being awarded seven scholarships to support my studies. I’m currently working on the development of artificial skin in Dr. Hyunjoon Kong’s research lab for Biomaterials, Tissue Engineering and Stem Cell Niche. My work involves the development of 3D cell culture constructs via a layer-by-layer deposition technique with a combination of biomaterials and the use of 3T3 fibroblasts, mesenchymal stem cells and keratinocytes in order to form skin dermal layers. Apart from conducting research, I have been a teaching assistant for “Biomedical Instrumentation” and “Cell and Tissue Engineering” for which I have been recognized with the Excellence in Teaching award. This has kept me busy preparing lectures, novel experiments, culturing cells for labs and working with the students to help them grasp the more difficult concepts.

Apart from my studies, I have founded a startup, Transplants Without Donors, which is the outcome of a 3.5 year endeavor to produce an off-the-shelf technology of tissue engineered organs which are customizable for each patient and tissue engineered bioreactors that can regulate the organ microenvironment in order to develop biocompatible and biofunctional organs ready for transplantation. This entrepreneurship activity has won several awards like the Best Social Venture- Cozad New Venture Competition, Idea to product Competition, Pitchfest Competition and the Entrepreneurship & Management for Life Scientists Finals Competition to name a few. From a humanistic standpoint, the major aim of our project is to give an end to the human organ trafficking, a transnational organized crime, that is rising in third world countries and has become a lucrative facet of economic development by annihilating the need for real organs. To this end, I have been actively involved in volunteering as the group leader for Peru, Uganda, and Costa Rica medical mission trips where we provide pharmaceuticals, vaccinations and perform surgical procedures for free to children patients. Through my volunteering in medical missions, I have experienced the devastating results of the illicit organ trade through exploited children or even prisoners that have been victims of this brutality by means of coercion, abuse of power and deception. Looking back to all my experiences in life, being a volunteer is the most important achievement that I have ever done and by far the most rewarding. Where there might have been despair in the face of one person, to see that replaced with hope is a gift beyond words.

Finally, being a member of the NASA Academy is not just a great scientific opportunity for me but fulfilling my childhood dream. I yearn to become a NASA astronaut and work on exploring life in outer space and ways to increase life expectancy on earth through novel scientific approaches within the field of the development of artificial organs and regenerative medicine. My family and friends still remember me begging my parents to buy me freeze-dried astronaut food, wearing t-shirts with the NASA logo and reading space science books in primary school. At the age of 22, it was of no surprise that I got a pilot license and a skydiving license and I feel that it’s about time for me to live my dream. I am honored and overwhelmed with joy to be part of NASA. My father used to tell me from my childhood: “Chase your dreams, otherwise you’ll never catch them”. Thank you for helping me make my wildest dream come true.

Extracurricular activities:

I enjoy skydiving, running marathons, swimming, TAE KWON DO and playing intramural co-ed soccer and volleyball. I am a huge fan of NASA’s website articles and updates on missions but most importantly I enjoy reading the amazing research projects that are happening on NASA bases which revolutionize the world.