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From bouncer to biotechnology lab manager

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Joe Desrosiers’ road to success paved with chemistry, science courses

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 27, 2010 –How many people can break a leg and look back on the experience as a blessing in disguise? Meet Joseph “Joe” Desrosiers once a bouncer, now a biotechnology lab manager. This fall, the 32-year-old added a new description to his list of growing achievements: homeowner.

“I never thought I would ever own my own house,” says the North Providence resident who is the lab manager for the Cell Mediated Immunity Core Lab at the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, located in the University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus.

As the road to Desrosiers’ American dream was paved with education, he now says he’s eager to vote for the higher education bond referendum # 2 on Nov. 2. The bond includes $61 million to finance a new Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences at URI.

“Chemistry is important to so many other sciences,” he says. “Without the knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry we couldn’t do the work necessary to develop new vaccines.”

Derosiers’ academic journey began when he earned 70 credits toward a pharmacy degree during the 1990s. He interrupted that journey, working various jobs at restaurants and catering firms in Rhode Island and even became a bouncer at several establishments. He was a head chef on a cruise ship until he broke his leg jumping down onto the dock from the ship’s deck.

While convalescing in Rhode Island, Desrosiers heard a radio ad about an open house for URI’s Biotechnology Manufacturing Program, an innovative program that prepares students for the rapidly growing biopharmaceutical industry in the region. First-year students receive intensive training in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, human physiology, biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and professional topics. A full-time internship at a life sciences company follows. Upon completion, the student is eligible for employment and can complete the degree on a part-time basis.

Desrosiers signed up. The program brings in outside speakers to talk about different biotechnology career paths. Annie De Groot, M.D., CEO of the biotechnology company EpiVax Inc., (now also a URI professor) was the first speaker he heard. She mentioned she was always looking for lab technicians. As soon as he had enough courses Desrosiers applied for a job. “I kept pestering her. I kept emailing and calling. Finally, I got a part-time job because I think she and others were tired of hearing from me.”

The part-time job turned into a full-time one as lab manager. After two years at EpiVax which is located in the Providence Jewelry District. Desrosiers moved to the URI Feinstein Providence Campus to set up labs for DeGroot when she was awarded a $13 million National Institutes of Health grant to pioneer the development of an integrated gene-to-vaccine program design, targeting emerging infectious diseases.

The URI alumnus manages a lab shared by five different researchers attempting to create vaccines to fight bioterrorism, H. pylori infections, tick diseases, and hepatitis C. While the researchers have different goals, they need the suite of tools and equipment that the lab provides. “The set-up would be extremely costly to each researcher so the lab saves them all time and money,” the lab manager explains.

The lab is also used for training programs for URI students and students and researchers from other institutions. Twice a year the Institute for Immunology and Informatics (I'Cubed) offers a TRIAD Toolkit training for up to 60 people a session who come to learn about innovative vaccine design methods. They are then eligible to apply for seed funding through I'Cubed. A large portion of this training is hands-on lab applications in cell culture, flow cytometry, immunosorbent assays and cryogenic preservation.

Pictured above
Joe Desrosiers
URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.