Abigail Blatchford
Associate Scientist

Originally Published in May 2024

Finding a Supportive Environment

Abigail began pursuing her career in science at Northeastern University, majoring in bioengineering and minoring in women, gender, and sexuality studies. As an undergraduate, she took advantage of her school’s cooperative education (“co-op”) program to explore potential career paths. In her first co-op, she worked at a formulation-focused biotech company and quickly discovered that small-molecule drug formulation and polymer engineering were not her passions.

In her next co-op, Abigail worked on the scale-up manufacturing of induced pluripotent stem cells using vertical wheel bioreactors. “I realized I was much more interested in working with living things than small molecules.” When she graduated in 2021, Abigail knew that she was looking for an opportunity that would allow her to continue to explore her interest in stem cells.

Abigail learned about mRNA cell reprogramming, mRNA gene editing, and Factor Bioscience’s work related to stem cells on Factor’s website, and decided to apply for a position as Research Associate. Her experience and enthusiasm for scientific research made Abigail an excellent fit.

Abigail’s first project at Factor involved optimizing the design of DNA repair templates for inserting transgenes into stem cells. Abigail worked closely with Factor’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Christopher Rohde, designing and testing oligonucleotides and discovering that the inclusion of an immunosuppressive motif could improve insertion efficiency. Abigail presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) in 2022.

An Idea Leads to Success

As a result of her accomplishments, Abigail was promoted to Associate Scientist and she began a new project working with pluripotent stem cell-derived myeloid cells. Abigail collaborated closely with fellow Associate Scientist, Mackenzie Parmenter, who had been working with pluripotent stem-cell derived lymphocytes. Leveraging her past experience with bioreactor-based cell culture, Abigail proposed transitioning Factor’s existing differentiation protocols to bioreactors. She recalled, “I reached out to my former colleagues to see if a collaboration of some sort would be possible and if any of their clients had done this kind of work. They said they hadn’t had clients do this kind of work, but they were very interested in it.”

Abigail pitched the idea to Factor’s Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. Matt Angel, who approved the project and authorized the purchase of a bioreactor. Abigail’s initial testing proved highly successful, and after just a year, she had formalized a process for producing hundreds of millions of immune cells for preclinical testing of candidate therapies to treat cancer.

“A huge benefit of working at Factor is that everyone is exceptionally receptive to new ideas. If you can make the case for why you should try it, you’ll get the support you need. That was a very cool experience to be able to pitch something and then to discover that it actually works.” Abigail presented the results of her work at the ASGCT annual meeting in 2023.

“Abigail has enormous talent for scientific research and her achievements are far above and beyond what would normally be expected of a Research Associate,” said Dr. Angel. “In particular, the initiative that Abigail showed in proposing the development of bioreactor-based cell culture at Factor has transformed the way our company produces cells across multiple project areas. I am incredibly proud of Abigail’s success and the environment at Factor that has fostered her ingenuity.”

Following Her Passion

Since she decided to major in bioengineering, Abigail had always wanted to combine her degree with her passion for gender equality in health. As she debated whether or not to pursue graduate study, Dr. Angel encouraged Abigail to try to identify a program that would align with her passion. “Dr. Angel provided a reference and was very helpful in obtaining a position for me at my top choice Ph.D. program. He’s really supportive of people who want to go to grad school,” she said. “He wants to see people grow and evolve as scientists. He helps us discover our passions and definitely facilitates our ability to follow them. I’m so thankful for all of his help.” Last fall, Abigail left Factor to pursue her Ph.D. in Women’s and Reproductive Health Sciences at the University of Oxford.