Startup Scientist Describes Her UT Graduate School Experience

photo of Kristy Wood smiling with New York City in background


Kristy Wood, a senior scientist at Moderna Therapeutics, a start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an undergrad before obtaining her doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from UT Austin.

“I grew up in Milwaukee in a family of engineers,” Wood says, “When I was younger I initially wanted to go to medical school. Biomedical engineering was the perfect field to work in both the areas of health and engineering.”

While a junior at University of Wisconsin-Madison, she had the opportunity to work on drug delivery research in the College of Pharmacy, and that was where she discovered the area she would pursue as a graduate student and in her career.

“I was interested in the concept of different materials and different delivery systems to administer medicine. The overall idea of being able to take drugs and control where they go in the body appealed to me,” says Wood.

At UT Austin, she worked in Professor Nicholas Peppas’ lab on targeted delivery of insulin for patients with diabetes, specifically on oral delivery via a pill.

“Our lab was an exciting place to work, and one of the things I liked about our lab is that we had a lot of students, and we had the chance to mentor students. We had a small army of people moving projects forward. And, we were well funded, so we had access to a lot of equipment,” says Wood.

Encouraged by her principal investigator to travel to conferences, Wood developed her presentation skills. Attending conferences prepared her for answering questions on her feet and exposed her to the latest scientific developments. Wood also credits an opportunity to conduct in vivo drug delivery research for two months at the University of Tokyo with preparing her for a career spanning both the corporate world and startups.  

After earning her Ph.D., Woods first worked at Baxter Healthcare outside of Boston on a protein micro-delivery system and nucleic acid drug delivery for use in oncology and to treat genetic diseases. From there Woods jumped to the world of startups, first with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and since March 2012, with Moderna Therapeutics.

Woods is a senior scientist with the company, which has around 20 employees and was founded in part by MIT professor Bob Langer, whom Woods met through her connection to UT Austin and her principal investigator, Dr. Peppas, with whom Langer attended MIT at the same time as graduate students.

Because the company is so new, they have not yet begun publicly disclosing their work, but in general, Woods is working on delivering messenger RNA for protein therapeutics to treat disorders where there are protein deficiencies, such as hemophilia. She is looking at how to deliver messenger RNA, which can be highly unstable and needs protection to effectively work. A host of conditions with a protein deficiency will become more treatable when messenger RNA can be effectively delivered. 

“The challenging part of working at a startup is that it can be difficult to describe to people what I do,” Kristy says, “But the exciting part is that we’re working on new technologies that no one else, or very few other companies, are working on. We move quickly, and it is fulfilling and exciting to get results.”

UT was a great experience for Wood.

“My graduate school experience taught me how to problem solve and has helped me be flexible in industry,” she says, “And, there is a bond between people who have graduated from Dr. Peppas’ lab  that provided me with a lot of introductions to other biomedical engineers and scientists, which has benefited me in my career.”
Wood also credits Dr. Peppas’ lab for her success.