Roux PhD Student Aims to Make Maine the Next Biotechnology Hub

Most kids dream of being an astronaut or a racecar driver. Griffin T. Scott was a little different.

“Even when I was little, I was always drawn to the ‘mad scientists’ on TV, like Dexter’s Lab or Dr. Who,” he says, laughing.

It makes sense that, today, Griffin is pursuing a career in the sciences, working on a project that seems straight out of science fiction, asking the question, “if salamanders can regrow lost limbs, eyes, even parts of the heart, why can’t we?”

Griffin, who recently earned a master’s in bioinformatics at Northeastern University’s Roux Institute, is not afraid to make bold claims about the possibilities of biotechnology. “I’ve always thought, medicine is about helping people live longer, healthier lives. Yet, when it comes to aging, the degenerative disease we all get, we’re just supposed to experience it naturally rather than pushing back.”

In speaking with Griffin, it’s clear his passions are deep and many. His academic journey began as an undergraduate student at McGill University in Montreal where he double majored in history and biology. He enjoyed the convergence of the two topics, particularly thinking about the impact of scientific development on human society. Griffin witnessed this firsthand during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the virus altered global structures while also driving advancements in biotechnology.

“I’ve always had a lot of different interests, so I thought, if I can create ways to help people live longer, healthier lives, I can spend the first part of my lifespan giving myself more time to explore all the other things I’m passionate about,” he said.

Griffin Scott, who graduated with his master's degree in bioinformatics last December, has enrolled as one of the Roux Institute's first PhD students, with a focus in computational medicine.

After graduating from McGill, Griffin returned to his hometown of Bath, Maine, not planning to stay long. He was eager to pursue a graduate degree in biotechnology and assumed that would mean relocating to Boston or a similar tech hub. But while working in Portland, he heard about the Roux Institute’s bioinformatics program and decided to at least get a certificate, thinking some computational skills would help him in applying to other graduate programs down the road.

Two years later, Griffin had not only matriculated into a full master’s degree in bioinformatics, but he is also one of the first students to enroll in the Roux Institute’s new interdisciplinary PhD program, specializing in computational medicine. Griffin says it was the experiential learning during his master’s program and his deep involvement in founding and growing student entrepreneurship programs at the Roux Institute that convinced him that Maine was a place where he could thrive as a young scientist.

“The experiential component is something I found extremely valuable,” Griffin recalled. For his co-op, Griffin worked with Roux researcher Dr. Christine Lary, analyzing large datasets in a pharmaco-genomic epidemiological study. “Even just understanding how those terms fit together was an education in biostatistics,” Griffin laughs.

[At the Roux Institute], I have access to expert mentorship from biostatistics, data visualization, machine learning, and systems biology. At a larger campus, those disciplines might be split up between separate buildings and less likely to collaborate.”

Griffin Scott

Master's of Bioinformatics Graduate

Northeastern University

Griffin presented his work investigating the interaction between genetic variants and beta blocker treatment and their association with bone density in postmenopausal women at the CHARGE conference in Boston in May 2023.

Griffin’s work with Dr. Lary led him to his next project with his current PhD advisor, Dr. Kiran Vanaja. The two worked for five months building a project to model how axolotls, a type of salamander, regenerate their limbs and other complex tissues after injury. By modeling gene expression in immune cells over the course of regeneration, Griffin hopes to unlock secrets that could advance our understanding of wound healing, immune signaling, and why some animals regenerate and how in the future we could do the same.

“I was attracted to this program because of the multi-disciplinary approach,” Griffin said about his decision to stay at the Roux Institute to pursue his PhD. “As a relatively small institution, I have access to expert mentorship from biostatistics, data visualization, machine learning, and systems biology. At a larger campus, those disciplines might be split up between separate buildings and less likely to collaborate.”

“One thing I really appreciate about this place is that you can just go up to an established researcher or faculty member and talk to them. People here have time to grab a coffee or answer a question, and that’s really special,” he reflected.

As Griffin delves into the computational modeling of immune cells during wound healing, he’s investing heavily into his other main passion at the Roux: entrepreneurship. He, with fellow Roux master’s student Mike Warren, is the co-founder of the Roux Entrepreneurship Club, a student interest group that connects students interested in venture creation to opportunities for funding, mentorship, and education in Maine.

Griffin, of course, is most interested in biotechnology venture creation, and sees Maine as a state that is primed to become a hub for life sciences innovation.

“Maine has a lot of great research institutions, but not a lot of biotechnology startups. That means there’s a huge amount of intellectual property in the state which could be translated into products.”

One of Griffin’s goals during his PhD program is to help build the Roux Institute into an engine which connects students and fundamental research to entrepreneurial opportunities. He would like to eventually pursue his own venture, but for now, as he embarks on his PhD, he is happy to build a community of like-minded peers at the Roux Institute.