Eleni Antoniadou, 27, is an extraordinary young scientist who hopes to change the face of medicine. Named one of Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30 in health care this year, Antoniadou is the co-founder of the startup Transplants Without Donors, which aims to jumpstart the use of lab-generated organs in clinical transplants.
In 2011, she directly contributed to research that enabled the world’s first successful completely artificial organ transplant, helping to craft an artificial trachea for a 36-year-old late-stage cancer patient.
Her burgeoning research career has seen remarkable success at every stage: While continuing her graduate work in regenerative medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she was selected to participate in courses at the NASA Academy, where she remains a visiting researcher. In 2013, Antoniadou was named Woman of the Year at the 2013 British FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, and in 2014 was a laureate of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for her work in bioengineering.
Despite the well-earned honors she has received -- and her role at NASA -- Antoniadou expresses a remarkably earthbound and focused vision for the future. HuffPost Greece sat down with the pioneering scientist to talk about her work, her passion and her vision for the next decade. What is it you most hope to personally achieve in the next 10 years? In the next 10 years, I hope to contribute to the development of artificial organs as an alternative therapy for transplants. At the same time, I hope to contribute to the sensitizing of society to the acceptance of innovative technologies in clinical practice, and the eradication of stereotypes that stem from a lack of knowledge. And personally, the possibility of having or adopting a child would be a daring and exciting undertaking! What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the past year? My experiences on humanitarian missions in developing countries, where I met victims of the organ black market in their ruthless battle for survival, have made me completely re-evaluate what a challenge is, on a personal level. However, it is also extremely difficult for me to be a passive observer to the hardships of my dear friends in Greece, which is going through a humanitarian crisis. Who has been the biggest role model in your adult life? I avoid making people out to be role models in life because that perspective may garner unrealistic expectations. However, I am always inspired by people who live with kindness, generosity and humility, who honestly recognize their weaknesses but have the courage to envision the world with a potential of infinite choices for all. I think the creation of role models is an endless battle, one which we alone are exclusively called on to fight. What is a story you wish the media would do a better job of covering? I believe we need examples of inventiveness, helping others and inspiring others. Because coverage of scientific discoveries in the media are so limited, innovations in science and space exploration become conflated with grand, abstract theories and space-time quandaries. We need to enrich this perception by publicizing the practical applications of scientific discoveries in daily life. For example, how many people know that artificial limbs, devices for ventricular assistance for heart transplants, light transmitting diodes for the therapy of cancer, enriched baby food and water filters are all technologies that were developed as part of space program experimentation?
Which living person do you most admire?
I especially admire the strength and soul of people who have, with courage and determination, overcome important difficulties without altering their character. Some distinctive cases for me are Katie Piper, who was attacked with acid in 2008, and, more recently, the parents of a newborn infant who was unfortunately born brain-dead in Hammersmith Hospital in London and who found the wherewithal to donate their child's organs, saving two child patients (the first infant organ donation, in January 2015). What advice would you give a young person trying to decide what to do with their life? To armor themselves with knowledge, to have faith in themselves and adaptability, and to pursue being in an environment that pushes them to evolve. What are you most thankful for? I am extremely grateful for my health and the love which I have received from my family, but mostly to people unknown to me, whose generosity has galvanized my faith in a better future. Where do you get your news from? Apart from The Huffington Post (I am part of their microcosm of bloggers, after all!), I try to filter the barrage of information that comes from sources and social media. I suffer from information overload! What is the cause or issue that you are most interested in seeing solved over the next 10 years?
I would be happy if, through technological innovations, we could ensure access to pharmaceutical and medical care and knowledge to all people around the Earth. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I open the window, take a deep breath and look at the sky. What do you do to de-stress, recharge and stay balanced? Depending on the circumstances, I walk by the sea, I fall in the arms of the people I love, I listen to beautiful melodies and I read beloved books. Finish this sentence: In the year 2025, we will… ? …have equal rights and obligations among all people without stereotypes and prejudices; we will have managed to fix genetic anomalies in infants through stem cell transplants before they are even born; we will have founded clinical centers to transplant artificial organs of partial complexity and we will have sent a manned space mission further than the International Space Station. What current trend do you think we'll look back on in ten years in disbelief? I believe 2025 will mark a transitional period for the complete or partial adoption of innovative technologies where it will be considered absurd for driving to be allowed in overpopulated city centers.
The weight of domestic work will be placed on robotic assistants which will execute them with exactitude and swiftness, improving quality of life.
It will be unthinkable to not have a medical file for every citizen that comes with preventative checks for possible predisposition factors.
The adoption of the applications of regenerative medicine, bio-nanotechnology and the capability to store stem cells in statutory bio-banks will mark the realization of individualized therapies designed specifically for each patient, thus negating the need for generalized clinical practices that are only partially effective. How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How important has sleep been in your life? Of course sleep is especially important; it is the source of our energy and food for our imagination! Because I have studied the circadian rhythm and its effect on our health and the cycle of sleep-wake of astronauts, I try to adhere to scientific directives! I usually go to sleep at 1 a.m. and wake up and 7 a.m. What do you value the most? What I value the most is the kindness that stems from those who have a great supply of love for, and the will to help, others; for those who sacrifice their self-interest to help a stranger, and can embrace any version of man. This piece was originally published on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English. It was adapted for an American audience.