April 16, 2013
Lin L. Mantell M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, discusses her
research work in the
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Born and raised in
China, Dr. Mantell received her training in the medical sciences at
Beijing Medical University (part of Beijing University). She went
on to earn her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at
Stony Brook University, NY.
Would you discuss your path from China to the United
I grew up in Beijing, where many members of my family worked in
medicine. I have always been surrounded by people who are dedicated
to patients, so from a very early age, I knew I wanted to do
something to help others. Marie Curie was a big inspiration to me,
too. I’ve read so much about her, and as a child I wanted to be
just like her.
In China, if you work at a hospital, you are assigned a place to
live on site, so I literally grew up there. It was only natural
that I wanted to work in medicine. I studied at Beijing Medical
University with the intention of teaching medical students and
doing research. After I was offered a faculty position, I received
a scholarship from the World Health Organization to come to the
United States to pursue my Ph.D. I was very excited. I
remember my father’s reaction was, “Do not date any American boys!”
I went to Stony Brook University and earned my Ph.D. I even
met my husband there—an American boy!
I did my post-doctoral work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
with Dr. Carol Grieder, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize, and then I
went to work at Winthrop University Hospital. The husband of one of
my technicians worked at St. John’s. Through him, I learned that
the University was looking for someone to teach a course as an
adjunct professor. I was hired for the position, and in 2005 I
became a full-time professor.
I came to St. John’s to do something I love all the
time—teaching and research. It was a great move both personally and
professionally. Every day, I look forward to coming to my office,
and I still have time to be with my family. How many people can say
that they love what they do?
What is the nature of your research?
My research focuses on oxidative stress [an excess of
pro-oxidants that can damage cells] as a side effect of mechanical
ventilation. In a hospital, patients who are put on a ventilator
usually recover very well from the procedures during the first
three or four days after surgery. However, a few days after
that—boom—they get an infection. It’s called
“hospital-acquired pneumonia” or “ventilator-associated pneumonia.”
We feel that hospital-acquired pneumonia happens because, during
mechanical ventilation, patients’ lungs are exposed to high
concentrations of oxygen. Prolonged exposure causes oxygen
toxicity, which compromises the immune system and hinders someone’s
ability to fight off infection.
In related studies, we’ve found that the immune system of a
typical cystic fibrosis patient is similarly weakened, as is the
immune system of astronauts who have been subjected to oxidative
stress in space for prolonged periods of time.
Through the years, I’ve been fortunate to win a number of
grants. This year, I was awarded one from a pharmaceutical company
named ParinGenix for my work on the Effects of ODSH on Bacterial
Clearance and Lung Injury in Bacterial Pneumonia.
How do St. John’s and its students impact your
My students forever inspire me. They are passionate about
research, and they’re a constant reminder of why I live to work.
Not only do they assist me with my projects, but they also
constantly challenge me with insightful questions. Our weekly
research lab meetings are some of the most enjoyable in my
Because of the nature of our research, I can tell my students
why what they’re learning in the classroom is so important. What’s
more, when I explain our relatively complicated projects to my
undergraduates, I have a chance to step back, to ask myself some
very basic, fundamental questions about why we’re doing what we’re
My colleagues motivate me, too. Even if their research is
focused in an unrelated area, hearing about their work can give me
a spark that leads to a new discovery. To me, what I do here isn’t
a job—it’s more like a game, so when I go to meetings, I’m seeing
my friends. They play such an important role in both my personal
and professional lives.
What are the real-world implications of your
Our ultimate goal is to find a pharmacological solution to
counteract oxygen toxicity, so that once a hospital patient
stabilizes, we can administer such an agent. We’re testing a number
of drugs to find the most effective form of treatment. In the lab
some have been very effective with our experimental models.
Hopefully, we can help patients in the near future.
What do you do in your free time?
Family is my first concern. I spend a lot of time taking care of
my kids and helping with homework and spending time with my
husband. He and I do a lot of sports together and we love to play
and watch tennis. I also try to stay healthy and fit by exercising
and dancing regularly.
What’s your next step?
My next step is to get more grants to support our research
program! Beyond that, I want to help my students prepare for
the future and be competitive. That’s my responsibility. I’ve
also been working with some of the Pharm. D. students to give them
some research experience.
I also want to collaborate with different groups to develop new
drugs that will help people. I enjoy my work—I always tell others,
do what you love, love what you do, and you’ll never “work” a day
in your life.