She is a Pioneer and Leader
Behind nearly a century of groundbreaking innovation at Draper have been generations of passionate experts. Else Vedula, principal member of Draper’s Biological Microsystems team, is one such expert.
“Else has been a pioneer in the development of new technologies ever since she became a full-time scientist and even before, as a Draper Scholar,” said Dr. Jeff Borenstein, laboratory fellow and director of Draper’s Biomedical Engineering Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Draper Scholars Program provides scholarships and research support for Master of Science and Doctorate degree candidates, as they pursue advanced technical degrees in engineering and sciences. They conduct their own research under the supervision of both a university faculty advisor and a Draper technical staff supervisor.
Among her many achievements are groundbreaking developments in the organ on chip space and the organ assist device space. She has served as the technical lead for at least three of the major organ and disease model areas for Draper, each of which are best in class in the field.
For example, Vedula led the development of the MOUTH model for gingivitis, that resulted in the longest duration and highest functionality model of gingival tissue ever reported.
First authors and technical leaders Ashley Gard and Rebeccah Luu were critical to the success of this work, said Vedula.
These advances have led to national recognition in the field and multiple large, funded programs.
“Underpinning all of this is Else’s leadership, as technical director, of the PREDICT96 technology development program,” said Borenstein.
PREDICT96 is a multiplexed, single-organ system that models and captures data on how compounds and functioning human tissue interact. It houses microphysiological models that replicate specific organs.
“The innovative technologies comprised in the original P96 prototypes were pioneered by Jonathan Coppeta, Hesham Azizgolshani and Brett Isenberg,” said Vedula, crediting the innovators who came before her and those who have worked alongside her. “Since then, many people have worked to develop various tissue and organ types and added capabilities within P96.”
“This has secured Draper’s position as the world leader in organ-on-chip platform technology, a technical advantage over every other organ chip developer,” said Borenstein.
She is a Creator of Culture
Although Vedula is highly decorated within her field, her dedication to seeing her team succeed is what is cultivating Draper’s coveted culture of innovation.
“Some of this is going to sound cliché, but Else is that cliché,” said Timothy Petrie, head of business for medical devices at Draper. “She is the quintessential Draper colleague. She is an unparalleled communicator which streamlines everyone’s time and effort. Else brings an optimistic, incredibly creative, and collaborative mindset to all brainstorms as well, and is such an integral part of forward-thinking.”
Petrie said her selfless nurturing of Draper’s junior staff has proven vital to retaining top talent.
“Our work is the definition of interdisciplinary, and that only works if that if that nurturing collaborative spirit is ingrained in every action of influential leaders like Else,” he said.
Borenstein said organizations will inevitably falter in their progress because of the inevitable drag of internal conflicts and competition that may arise when they fail to nurture a culture of collaboration and mentoring.
“They cannot afford to not prioritize a positive culture such as the environment that Else is fostering,” he said.
She is a Mentor at Heart
Vedula was recently awarded the company’s Howard Musoff Mentoring Award for her demonstrated commitment as a Draper Scholars Program supervisor, exemplifying Draper’s Teamwork and People First core values.
She began her Draper journey nearly 14 years ago as a Draper Scholar herself and has been an employee for eight years.
“It was both a big honor and very unexpected,” said Vedula. “I graduated from the Scholar Program almost 10 years ago, but it sometimes feels like yesterday!”
Vedula said her Draper Scholar advisor from 2009-2014, Joe Charest, easily fostered within her the confidence and independence she needed to succeed early on in her PhD program.
“Joe was invested and available,” said Vedula. “He provided me with a seemingly perfect balance where I felt both supported and challenged - a combination that models, I think, strong leadership. I’m grateful for his mentorship and friendship and absolutely think it shaped my own approach today.”
As a Draper Scholars Program advisor, Vedula has herself been charged with providing that same technical expertise and encouragement to the next generation of innovators.
Vedula said she is especially proud of the two Draper Scholars, now PhD grads, Erin Shaughnessey and Sam Kann, who she has been advising over the last five years.
“This award felt like a very meaningful way to culminate our time together in the Scholar program,” said Vedula. “Being a Draper Scholar supervisor is without a doubt one of my favorite parts about working at Draper.”
“Else has provided tremendous support as my Draper Scholar supervisor for the past 4 years,” said Samuel Kann, a mechanical engineering PhD student at Boston University. “Else’s amazing mentorship helped me reach many significant milestones, which have included publishing a first author manuscript in a top-tier science journal, being accepted to present my thesis research at three conferences, being nominated for an award at a competitive engineering conference and receiving a patent for technology related to my graduate studies.”
Vedula said mentorship and good technical advisors can transform a person’s experience as a graduate student.
“I very much enjoy helping students reach their potential, find passion and confidence in their research, and settle into their own lives as a scientist,” she said. “The multi-year trajectory of a MS or PhD student facilitates strong relationships and opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life. It is my hope that I can continue cultivating those relationships and supporting scholars during my time here at Draper."