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Focus: Lin L. Mantell, M.D., Ph.D.-A Series of Discussions on Research at St. John's

Tuesday, 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 States?

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 work?

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 life.

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 doing.

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 research?

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.