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Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Wayne speaks at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, in Vancouver. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Elizabeth Wayne, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow studying how immune cells can be used to fight cancer, gave a TED talk on the main stage at TED 2017 in Vancouver, Canada. Wayne was announced as a TED fellow in January 2017.

Wayne’s research focuses on targeted cancer therapy, attaching cancer-fighting genes to immune cells that are already being delivered by the body’s immune system to cancerous tumors. The idea, Wayne said, is to only treat the cancer itself rather than using treatments like chemotherapy, which cannot discriminate between damaging good cells and cancer cells.

Of the weeklong event, the talk itself was only about five minutes. Wayne, who often presents to laboratory peers and at conferences, said she considers herself a practiced public speaker and is usually very comfortable giving mostly-improvised presentations. This experience, she said, was totally different.

“When you’ve got four cameras looking at you, when you go from a lab where you’re pipetting all day and you have this one-on-one interaction and you kind of know what you’re doing. All of a sudden there’s production teams, there’s four cameras on you, and there’s another person taking pictures of you,” Wayne said.

Before this experience, Wayne said the largest audience she’d spoken to was probably about 100 people. According to the conference’s website, more than 1,000 people attended TED2017.

Liz Wayne is a postdoctoral fellow working with Ferguson Distinguished Professor Alexander "Sasha" Kabanov, Ph.D.
Liz Wayne is a postdoctoral fellow working with Ferguson Distinguished Professor Alexander “Sasha” Kabanov, Ph.D. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Wayne said she practiced by recording herself and presenting her talk to others. While she started by presenting to her peers in academia, she said much of her language changed when she presented to undergraduates and family who had a much less nuanced understanding of the science itself.

“It taught me a lot about communicating science to the lay public,” Wayne said. “I am convinced there is a way to communicate science to anyone. You just have to be very thoughtful about it and careful.”

As for the rest of the conference, Wayne said she and the other TED fellows spent it networking. Other conference attendees, who had to pay a minimum of $10,000 for a ticket, included the likes of tennis star Serena Williams, award-winning television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes and politician Al Gore.

“It’s about density,” Wayne said. “At TED when you look around it’s all high executives. You can talk to them, and they’ll talk to you. You are right there with them, and all I have to do is introduce myself.”

Wayne said she believes she was chosen not only because of the novelty of her research, but because TED had confidence that she would capitalize on the resources it made available to her. She said she’s hopeful about funding opportunities and other support to further her research that may come from the connections she was able to make at TED.

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