Written by
Wendy Plump
Sept. 12, 2023

Michael Skinnider, a computational biologist who recently completed his MD/Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, has joined the Ludwig Princeton Branch as an assistant member, effective Sept. 1.

He is also an assistant professor at Princeton University, holding a joint appointment with the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

The Ludwig Princeton Branch was established at Princeton University in the spring of 2021 to advance the science of cancer metabolism and explore the development of innovative dietary and pharmacological strategies for cancer therapy through such studies.

Skinnider is the Branch’s first faculty hire. His research at the intersection of computational science and disease biology leverages big data to investigate the human microbiome and its influence on health and disease.

“Some of the most exciting new treatments for cancers seem to have a strong relationship to the microbiome,” said Skinnider. “But so little is known about the biochemistry of this microbial ecosystem. One of the big challenges on the technical side is advancing our ability to link metabolomic data to biology and chemistry. The technical challenges are really quite formidable.

“Right now, only a fraction of the data in a routine metabolomic experiment can be meaningfully interpreted, and that has been a major roadblock to research. My vision is that, using the techniques of metabolomics, a field Ludwig Director Josh Rabinowitz helped pioneer, we ultimately will be able to do a metabolomic experiment and meaningfully interpret not just a small fraction of the data, but all of it, linking every signal that we detect in one of these experiments to a chemical structure.

“Princeton is an extremely collaborative place,” he added. “That’s one of the things that really appealed to me. The Ludwig Princeton Branch and Lewis-Sigler are doing this essential interdisciplinary work.”

Branch Director Joshua Rabinowitz, joint professor in the Department of Chemistry and Lewis-Sigler, said Skinnider embodies Ludwig’s commitment to advancing new technologies in the fight against cancer.

“We’ve seen the revolutionary potential of ChatGPT,” said Rabinowitz. “Michael is asking whether the same core computational technology can be used to revolutionize chemistry, starting with discovering new metabolites in our bodies that may drive cancer or impact anticancer immunity.”

Skinnider received his Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver under the advisement of Leonard Foster. His research focused on the use of proteomic technologies to map cellular protein-protein interaction networks. He earned his B.ArtsSc., summa cum laude, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, leveraging large-scale microbial genomics and mass spectrometry-based metabolomics to discover new antibiotics. His research was spun off into a startup biotechnology company, Adapsyn Bioscience.

Skinnider has published or had accepted 37 articles in peer-reviewed journals, with 27 as first-author. He was named to the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list in 2021 in the science category. He was born in Saskatoon, Canada, and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, where he enjoyed hiking and cycling.

Skinnider said he plans to build an interdisciplinary lab at Ludwig Princeton Branch and has begun recruiting graduate students and postdocs from the chemistry, biology, and computer science fields.