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News & Press: Member News

Member Spotlight: Helena Madden

Tuesday, July 21, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Luke Van Meter
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The Member Spotlight Q&A is part of an ongoing CASSS series, in which we invite members to meet other members of the CASSS Community.

The Member Spotlight is an ongoing Q&A series focused on getting to know the CASSS community. Today’s spotlight shines on Helena Madden, Senior Director, bluebird bio, Inc.

Q. What was your motivation to volunteer with CASSS?
Years ago, I complained to my boss, Rohin Mhatre, that there were no good bioassay conferences on the east coast that attracted FDA.  He told me to stop complaining about it, and to do something about it! He suggested that I write a one-page proposal describing a potential bioassays meeting and give it to Wassim Nashabeh, CASSS Board Member. And that’s how my involvement with CASSS began.

Q. What do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies?
I love to walk my dogs in the woods and enjoy nature. I like to sew, cook, and practice yoga to keep myself balanced.

Q. What's your favorite type of food or special dish you cook? Why?
I like to experiment with different ways to cook seafood.  Since I live near the ocean, many kinds of fresh fish are readily available and oh, so good. 

Q. What is your favorite movie, tv show, music or book?
I read all types of books. “The Drug Hunters” by D. Kirsch and O. Ogas and “A Crack in Creation” by J. Doudna and S. Sternberg are great books about drug discovery.  I enjoy all of Lisa Genova’s books and “Shantaram” by G.D. Roberts was a favorite read.

Q. What famous person (dead or alive) would you choose to have dinner with?  Why?
I’d really like to share dinner and conversation with Michelle Obama. She’s an inspirational and resilient leader who always stays true to herself. I admire her inner strength and perseverance, her positive outlook on life, and her sense of humor.

Q. What’s your favorite travel experience?
When my grandchildren were in their early teens, I took them each on a trip of their choosing.  Lila decided to go to London and Paris. Marcus chose to go to Madrid and Barcelona. We did whatever they wanted.  It was fascinating to see the world through their eyes while making lifelong memories.

Q. What would people be surprised to know about you?
My husband was the first mayor of Weymouth, MA from 2000-2008 and that made me FLOW – First Lady of Weymouth (OMG!). This opportunity and experience made me a better person. I actually had to talk to people and care about their concerns rather than to be a geek who goes into the lab and shuts the door. No one has replaced me yet, since the subsequent mayor was a woman and the current mayor is unmarried.

Q. How did you get inspired to go into science/biotech/pharma industry?
My undergrad degree is in Medical Technology, but I found it rather boring to process shopping bags full of blood tubes at a large Boston hospital. An exciting day occurred only when instruments broke down and troubleshooting was needed.  Since I had worked as a co-op student at a biotech company and found it fascinating, I learned more biochemistry, and then joined a start-up company, Oncogene Research Products, where I learned assay development. When ORP moved to the west coast I was hired at Biogen. Last year I transitioned to bluebird bio.

Q. If you did anything other than your current occupation, what would it be?
I would teach quilting and other fabrics arts. If you give folks basic instruction and inspire them with examples, the possibilities are amazing.

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