When Chris Paradise graduates from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in May, it will be yet another important milestone in his lifelong relationship with Mayo Clinic. The one time Mayo patient and child of a Mayo Clinic nurse will be the first student to graduate from the doctoral research training program known as the Regenerative Sciences Training Program (RSTP). It will be a culmination of hard work and dedication, backed by a positive attitude and team approach that is recognized by his fellow students and colleagues.
“I was interested in science and fascinated by how biological systems worked at a young age,” says Paradise. “I was the kid that grew mold for the science fair project and stayed up late into the night building a 3D model of the cell out of candy.”
This inherent interest and his involvement in sports at the high school and college level fueled his fascination with musculoskeletal biology and orthopedics. When Paradise was in high school he injured his shoulder playing football — an injury that would have ended his athletic career. He describes the care he received at Mayo as a turning point in his life, which allowed him to play ball at a college level and sparked a further interest in science and healing.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., Paradise found himself intrigued by how science could be applied to healing human health and disease. He wanted to continue his education where he could make a difference in the lives of patients through research.
In 2017, when Mayo Clinic announced the RSTP, one of the nation’s first doctoral research training programs in regenerative sciences, Paradise knew he had found the perfect opportunity to enhance his education and take advantage of all the resources the Center for Regenerative Medicine has to offer.
“The program was perfectly aligned with my desire to bring knowledge from the lab to patients through regenerative science,” says Paradise. “This was an opportunity to not only broaden my foundational knowledge of stem cell and regenerative biology, but to connect with an outstanding community of students, scientists and physicians leading the way in the field of regenerative medicine.”
Paradise has had a productive start to his research career during his time in graduate school. He credits his laboratory mentors and the collaborative environment of Mayo Clinic for the opportunity to contribute to a wide array of exciting research papers. Chris has contributed to over 20 research articles published in journals such as Nature Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cells and Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, in addition to publishing two first-author papers of his own.
He says the comprehensive approach of Mayo Clinic — being able to take an idea or problem to a research lab and subsequently translating a solution into patient care — is the reason he chose to study at Mayo. He landed in the lab of Andre van Wijnen, Ph.D., now his research mentor, where he began as a research trainee. After this full-time experience in a biomedical laboratory, Paradise applied for the Ph.D. Program in biomedical science at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to continue his education. Two years after starting in Dr. van Wijnen’s lab, he joined the group as a full-time graduate student to investigate new strategies for bone and cartilage repair. Shortly after, he was accepted into the RSTP.
“Chris has set the bar high for future students,” says Dr. van Wijnen. “Beyond his incredible research achievements that are truly off the charts, he is has been a model citizen of the Mayo Clinic academic community. He was active in further development of coursework as part of the graduate school’s regenerative medicine curriculum, participated in journal clubs, and served as a teaching assistant for several courses on campus.”
Paradise and the team in Dr. van Wijnen’s lab are actively investigating new approaches for musculoskeletal regeneration using adult stem cells and new drugs that may lead to a better understanding of bone regeneration. They’re working to improve the current standard of care in orthopedic repair and restoration of the human joint — bone, cartilage, ligament and tendon.
“Chris’ attitude and work ethic embodies the core values of Mayo Clinic,” says Dr. van Wijnen. “He is always willing to help and is the first to volunteer even if it is outside of his responsibilities — even helping to teach and mentor others in the lab.”
Outside of the lab, Paradise brings another value to his fellow students and colleagues at Mayo Clinic — he grew up just down the road from Rochester in Mantorville, Minn. His mother has been a nurse at Mayo for over 30 years, and he has been a regular patient at Mayo throughout his life.
“Beyond science, Chris has been the source of local information to those who are new to the community,” says Amel Dudakovic, Ph.D., a senior research associate who has also served as a mentor to Chris during his time in the lab. “On numerous occasions, he has spent his personal time helping others navigate local events and culture.”
Additionally, Paradise gives back to the community through student-led community outreach organizations such as Brainwaves, a group dedicated to teaching local middle and high school students about the brain.
He successfully defended his thesis March 4 in front of a large audience of friends, family, and Mayo Clinic faculty. He will graduate from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences on May 17.
The RSTP continues to be a priority for the Center for Regenerative Medicine and the graduate school, as a way to prepare the next generation of scientists to accelerate the discovery, translation and application of cutting-edge regenerative diagnostics and therapeutics.
Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine supports over 20 students in the RSTP, which accepts 3-4 students per year and has students on all three Mayo graduate school campuses in Arizona, Florida and Rochester. Students in the program graduate with a doctorate in biomedical sciences with an emphasis in regenerative sciences and their track of choice.
“The sky is the limit at a place like Mayo with the resources we have here as students,” says Paradise. “I have been fortunate to collaborate with leaders in the regenerative medicine field and the orthopedics department on many projects.” He adds that the last six years have been incredibly enjoyable thanks to his friends and colleagues at Mayo Clinic.