Interview: Dr. Melanie Matheu, Co-founder of Prellis Biologics

Dr. Matheu co-founded Prellis Biologics in October 2016, with the mission to create fully vascularized human tissues and organs for transplantation. Her realization that the tiny blood vessels necessary for creating human organs could be replicated using the laser technology at the center of her PhD thesis work, led to development of the blended engineering and biology approach Prellis is using to solve the human organ shortage. Dr. Matheu is an expert in laser-based imaging of the immune system and developed Prellis’ platform technology. She brings her multi-disciplinary experience in specialized laser microscopy, cell biology, physiology, and biophysics to address the unsolved biomedical challenge of rapid 3D printing of large, vascularized tissues. Dr. Matheu will be a speaker at the #3DHEALS2018 conference on April 20-21st, 2018.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Melanie: I first encountered 3D printing in a research lab when I was still in academia. I was fascinated by the freedom of iteration and development 3D printing provided.  I immediately started thinking about the implications for healthcare and medicine.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Melanie: When I was doing research at UCSF I was driving home from the lab one night and listening to a podcast on organ development for transplantation. The surgeon being interviewed identified a singular problem standing between scientists and physicians and a truly living engineered organ. Once I heard it, it seemed simple; develop microvasculature. I couldn’t shake the idea that all we had to do was find a way to create microvasculature quickly and we could save millions of lives. At its core, this is an engineering problem, but one that typically only people with a solid footing in the cell biology world would be excited about solving. I had solid exposure to both sides of the problem and I began to look for and thinking about possible solutions.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Melanie: I’ve had a number of incredible mentors, one that was particularly important in guiding my scientific career was my Ph.D. mentor Mike Cahalan, Ph.D. of UC Irvine. Mike is a careful, thoughtful, and thorough scientist, who took incredibly ‘what if’ and ‘let’s try and see’ moments, and turned them into elegant research, advancing the field of immunology in phenomenal ways. Thanks to Mike’s work we understand that immune cell activity is controlled by ion channels and that immune cells are highly motile in all tissues throughout the body, nd critical for immune system function. He’s also a genuinely great person who has always given meaningful advice.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Melanie: I love solving challenging problems, it’s a privilege to have the chance to work on a well-defined problem that has the potential to impact the lives of millions in a positive way.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Melanie: Communicating a cross-disciplinary solution in a way that makes sense to a broad audience is always a challenge. We’ve found it often works best to explain the exciting potential of the solution, the magnitude of the problem, and then give some real-world physical examples.
Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?
Melanie: Some of the largest challenges facing 3D printing are standardization and quality control testing. We’ve placed amazing tools in the hands of very smart people, but making sure there is medical grade consistency across the board will allow for the field to move from one-off production into the realm of true medical solutions.
Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?
Great question!
I have a love of promoting education and I think I would start there.
I’d wish for improved general education in the sciences.
More coursework addressing cross-disciplinary interaction in the sciences, especially in solving difficult problems. I think this is where great solutions are often found.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?
Melanie: Make sure to remember that you can choose which advice is meaningful to you. I tend to pay attention to the advice of people I respect when it resonates with my inner passion and drive. Therefore my advice is to find your inner passion and drive first and then everything else will align.
For better or worse I’m also the type of person who tends to hear the words ‘can’t’ ‘won’t’ ‘don’t’ and ‘impossible’ as interesting challenges. So I typically didn’t give much credence to negative advice.
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
Melanie: Dream about how to achieve the impossible, make it possible, then doing the impossible becomes easy.
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Melanie: Our company is building a novel type of 3D printer, it is laser-based and ultra-fast. My greatest investment personally was boot-strapping the founding of this company and the filing of the patents. It was a leap of faith, I checked all of the physics and then took the leap. Seeing the system print as we expected it too for the first time was breathtaking. After that our investors and I have developed this out into its third generation, a system that is printing biological materials faster than any other known technology.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Melanie: When I left academia, I had just been awarded a transitional grant, I left a fully funded position and a bright academic future to start over in biotech and learn something new.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Melanie: I love long distance running. I’m also a very visual person so I still work on making art occasionally.
Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?
Melanie: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
– Arthur C. Clarke
This is one of my favorite quotations because I believe we too often accept the boundary of other’s knowledge as truth. As a scientist, I believe it is our responsibility to continue to ask questions and explore possibilities around the edges of knowledge.
It is only by following your deepest instinct that you can lead a rich life, and if you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.
-Katharine Butler Hathaway
This quote always reminds me that it is more often the lack of action we regret than taking action or exploring something new.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.
-G. K. Chesterton
I always refer to this quote when the unexpected occurs.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Melanie: 3DHEALS, to me, describes, a new world of possibilities at the intersect of engineering and medicine.

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