Skip to main content

Student Spotlight: Hendryck Gellineau

Hendryck Gellineau Photo

Hendryck Gellineau, a fifth-year MSTP student affiliated with the Meade Lab, was honored as an IIN Ryan Fellow from 2021-23. His primary focus involves the exploration of cobalt Schiff base complexes as innovative antibiotics, capitalizing on their axial ligand exchange chemistry. Outside the laboratory, Hendryck takes on the role of a BIP Meister, hosting the Department's cherished tradition of weekly informal inorganic chalk talks facilitated by students and postdocs.

What made you decide to attend Northwestern University?

A beautiful combination of factors brought me to Northwestern. I knew I wanted to live in a big city, so coming to live in Chicago was a huge draw for me. I wanted to go to a medical school that tried to serve its city, and I found that Feinberg had multiple opportunities to serve in free clinics and get early exposure to clinical care. To top it all off, I was floored by the capacity for research at Northwestern that was truly interdisciplinary. Medicinal chemistry cannot be performed in a (figurative) vacuum, and I was excited to see the crosstalk happening between chemistry, biology, and medicine happening here!

What has been your favorite Chemistry class and why?

Organic chemistry will always hold a very special place in my heart. Even though I ultimately plan to be an inorganic chemist, it was taking orgo that stole me from the biology major and inspired me to study chemistry. The abstract artistry of it and the incredible impacts it could have set me on the career path I am now. I was also fortunate to have amazing organic chemistry professors, all of whom were educators I aspire to be.

Is there a professor that has made an impact on your academic career?

Dr. Stephen Lee at Cornell University played a critical role in all my success. He saw potential in me that I didn’t think or know that I had. He pushed me to do better and told me that better was well within my grasp. It was because of him that I met my undergraduate research mentor, Justin. J. Wilson, whom I worked for all 4 years I was at Cornell. It was because of Stephen that I met Thomas Ruttledge, a phenomenal organic chemistry professor who also became an important mentor for me. I certainly would not be here now were it not for Stephen almost literally catalyzing my success.

What has been the highlight of your academic career thus far?

It’s very difficult to pick one moment out of such an exciting and rewarding career for me thus far, but the first thing that comes to mind is a day I had recently. In the morning on the way to Evanston, I read a journal article relevant to my research. I got to work, set up a reaction, did a few assays, and talked science with lab mates. I then had to turn around and head back downtown to go to my curricular primary care clinic (called an Education-Centered Medical Home or ECMH at Northwestern), where I got to see a few patients. For one of them, I was able to give helpful advice about monitoring their insulin. At the end of that day, I realized that I was living my dream. In a way, I was already a physician-scientist, doing my research one moment, and taking care of people the next. Days like that are always incredibly gratifying.

Tell us more about the research you are conducting in Professor Meade's Lab?

Enzymes called β-lactamases break down drugs like penicillin thus enable bacteria to become resistant to them. I’m currently developing Cobalt(III) Schiff base complexes as β-lactamase inhibitors to prevent the breakdown of these drugs and attenuate penicillin resistance. Cobalt complexes and drugs like penicillin could then be used synergistically to fight bacterial infections. I am working on using these same Cobalt complexes as antibiotics themselves. The challenge here is to explore methods by which to enable complexes to cross the complex membranes of Gram(-) bacteria. I’m currently trying to accomplish this using a “Trojan-Horse” approach, by which we use the bacteria’s own uptake machinery to trick it into internalizing the cobalt complex. For me, this involves exploiting siderophore chemistry, which bacteria use to take in iron, a crucial nutrient.

You are currently serving as BIP-meister for the 2023-24 academic year. Can you tell us what that is and why you enjoy BIP?

BIP stands for Basolo-Ibers-Pearson, three inorganic chemists who helped turn the Northwestern chemistry department into the powerhouse that it is today. The three of them would hold joint group meetings on Saturday mornings with their graduate students and postdocs, who would give chalk talks about their research. The stakes were high for the students, as speakers were selected randomly the morning of, and you had to be ready to present and answer questions. Today, the tradition is still ongoing, albeit for less draconian than on Saturday mornings at random. Students still come together on Friday mornings for informal chalk talks, donuts, and coffee. I love BIP because I get to hear broadly about the science of my talented and hardworking colleagues. More than that, I love BIP as it’s a crucial point of community building for the department. I met several other students from going to BIP and I and others have had many wonderful conversations that BIP facilitated. It’s been a joy to facilitate that for others this year as BIPmeister.

Where do you hope to be in your career in the next 10 years?

It’s my hope that I’ll be an academic physician-scientist in my first tenure-track faculty position by then. I hope to be at an academic medical center (hopefully in the DC area) where I’ll have a joint appointment in the departments of Chemistry and Medicine, in the Infectious Diseases division. I want to split my time 60:40 between running an NIH-funded research lab, studying the potential of metal complex therapeutics for bacterial and fungal infections, and working as an infectious diseases physician, seeing patients, and teaching medical students.