Student Spotlight: Erik Bidstrup

Erik Bidstrup

December 6, 2021

Erik Bidstrup is a doctoral student in chemical engineering from Slingerlands, New York. After attending Northwestern University as an undergraduate, he chose to pursue further study at Cornell due to the high-impact research and collaborative atmosphere.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

I am broadly interested in applying the tool of cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) to the challenge of therapeutic development and production. CFPS makes use of cell extract, obtained by cutting open engineered Escherichia coli, mixed with a number of cofactors, additives, and a DNA template which guides synthesis of a specific protein. What makes CFPS powerful is its open reaction environment, portability, and speed relative to more traditional protein production methods. For example, this could reduce the time it takes to produce therapeutics during an iterative design cycle or bring protein-based therapeutics to regions that currently lack the infrastructure to support traditional manufacturing methods.

What are the larger implications of this research?

Over 62% of the world’s protein therapeutic manufacturing is concentrated in the U.S., Canada, and Europe while the median price for a protein-therapeutic can exceed $100,000 per year of treatment. These are two of the core reasons numerous protein-based therapeutics on the list of the WHO’s essential medicines, considered the minimum medicines needed for a basic health care system, are not available in many low-resource regions. By reducing development times and increasing access to protein-based therapeutics via CFPS, cheaper therapeutics could be made available to a broader range of people, addressing this critical shortcoming in global health care.

What does it mean to you to have been awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship?

When on the academic path it can be difficult to recognize the progress one has made, which can lead to a warped view of your own abilities. Receiving the NSF GRF, especially after applying and failing to receive it the prior year, helped me to believe in my personal growth as a student and researcher.

What will your fellowship allow you to do that you may not have been able to otherwise?

 The NSF GRFP allows me to pursue research with a focus on discovery and reduces time otherwise spent pursuing funding sources. This serves to increase my productivity while helping me achieve my goal of making a positive impact through research.

Did you attend any Graduate School fellowship preparation workshops? If so, how did they help you prepare to apply for and ultimately receive a NSF GRF?

I attended a Graduate School fellowship preparation workshop, and it provided me specific details about what reviewers were looking for that I believe was critical to my success in receiving a NSF GRF. These details included how to frame intellectual merit in a convincing way and what the broader impact criteria really means for one’s personal statement and proposed research project.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

With the beauty that Ithaca has to offer, I spend a lot of time in nature. That means on a given day I could be running, climbing, skiing, or just hanging out in the backyard with my roommate’s cat, Phil.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

I was motivated to choose Cornell by the high-impact research of its faculty and the collaborative atmosphere within the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department. The high quality outdoor access right on the front step of Cornell was the icing on the cake.