Get to Know Sankar Renu, Ph.D

Group Leader & Senior Scientist

At Upkara, we use our love of science to answer the big questions. Our teamwork and passion unite us, whether we’re addressing global human health disparities or gender equality in the workplace. I have always been inspired by biotechnology, specifically its unique and broad applications for improving health. At Upkara, I have the privilege of working with cutting-edge technology and leading a brilliant team of scientists to better the lives of humans and animals alike.

Always Curious

From a young age, I was curious about the body and how it works. How does taking one pill make me feel better? How does eating food turn into energy? Why do humans and animals look different but have so much in common? These small thoughts all came together and pushed me into the life sciences field. I spent my Ph.D. research time developing a precisely deliver nanoparticle carrier armed with an anti-cancer drug for human cancer cells. My post-doctoral research explored the benefits of nanotechnology for veterinary health. I’ve always been curious about pushing the boundaries of what we can do with science.

One big theme I saw repeatedly in my studies is that a lot of research material and products suffered from stability issues and not being user-friendly. We saw this on display with the COVID vaccine when many countries couldn’t get it because of their cold chain logistics. When I learned about Upkara’s goal of eliminating cold storage for lifesaving medicines and championing health equity around the globe, I knew I wanted to work here.

Tackling the Big Problems

One of the most exciting parts of my job is to demonstrate a wide variety of applications for Upkara’s technology. We can stabilize a diverse array of biomolecules, which are then used for many different purposes. The best part of my job is demonstrating how our technology can be used for biobanking and human health. A while back, I helped develop a couple of new assay reagents application in the lab, then refined the R&D process into a scientific article and research conferences presentation. Showing how we can directly improve the health of both humans and animals makes me excited to come to work every day.

Another challenge I’m passionate about is figuring out how to create a positive environment for our team. Keeping everyone motivated is a big part of my day-to-day role. The problems we’re trying to solve aren’t easy ones. But my post-doctoral mentor had this optimism-first approach toward research. You won’t get the results you’re looking for every day. So you need to stay optimistic and let your attitude continue to fuel your curiosity. Even if you fail today, you still have a chance to succeed tomorrow.

Upkara has also taught me to look beyond the traditional views of science as a way to discover new things, and rather, to try and understand the fundamental problem. Here, I’ve learned to think through the problem until I can turn it into a product. You don’t stop your work after making one discovery. You keep looking for new ways to make it even better.

Navigating Work-Life Balance

I often get asked, “How do you find time for yourself if you’re so busy researching and pouring your time into this high-level work?” Truthfully, managing my work-life balance is tricky, but at the end of the day, it needs to be done. If I could, I’d give 100% to my job, but obviously, I need to take time for myself and there are other things I enjoy pursuing. I try to respect my weekends as personal time and keep those activities separate from work—and vice versa.

Outside of work, I love cooking, listening to music, and keeping up with world events. I’m also happy to spend time outdoors in my garden or hiking with friends. Nature has always been refreshing for me and ignites my curiosity.

Diverse and Collaborative Problem Solvers

Another privilege I’ve had here at Upkara is the opportunity to work with and build a diverse team. From the first day I arrived at Upkara, it has been a welcoming, positive place. Our industry is making lots of progress in both gender and ethnic diversity and I’m happy to be working for a company at the forefront of that change. Introducing more flexibility to our work culture with opportunities for remote work has also done a lot for our inclusion efforts and work-life balance.

Right now, I think being diverse is more important than ever. The problems our world is facing in the wake of the pandemic can’t be addressed by one sector alone. COVID is a great example. It mainly affected humans, but it likely arises from animals. We needed people from the human health field working closely with environmentalists and animal scientists to generate big-picture solutions. The more diverse our thinkers are, and the more people we can include in our problem-solving, the better our answers become.