“What you’re looking for does not exist.” That was some frank advice Corrie Ortega once heard from her Ph.D. advisor at the University of Washington. “It just doesn’t exist,” she remembers him saying. “You can’t have this humanitarian focus and do things without your work being at the mercy of stakeholders and economics or finances.”
Then, around the spring of 2015, Corrie learned about a research scientist position with Intellectual Ventures (IV) at the IV Lab. She applied and ended up meeting with Damian Madan, a principal investigator working with disease diagnostics and screening. “I interviewed with Damian and was like, ‘It does exist!’ People are interested in doing this [research] strictly because there are people in the world who need it, and those who need it most can’t necessarily pay for it.”
Corrie was sold—on the mission and the people at the Lab—and she joined IV in April of that year. Today, she leads a project to develop a test that supports cervical cancer screening in low-resource areas. It’s exciting work, she says, and a perfect culmination to many years of study, preparation and a little luck.
Corrie grew in Chicago’s South Side, where she attended Whitney Young High School (which Michelle Obama also attended). After graduation, she moved to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins University, where she worked part-time in a psychology lab focusing on brain science. She was enjoying that research, but then she heard of a different lab working on infectious disease. Her interest piqued, she soon transferred to the disease lab, where she would spend countless hours during the rest of her time at Hopkins. “It was very serendipitous,” she says.
One of the collaborators with that lab worked at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and through that connection Corrie later learned they needed a lab technician. She interviewed for the job, got it and moved down to Washington, D.C., after completing her degree.
Like her undergrad lab, her NIH program focused on vector biology in the context of infectious disease transmission—specifically, exploring the relationship between mosquitos and the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which, when transmitted to a human through a mosquito bite, causes malaria (and is responsible for roughly half of all malaria cases in the world). They wanted to know how a mosquito is able to support the parasite’s life cycle for transmission, and also how to break that cycle.