At the PCC’s 2017 Conference we had the pleasure of awarding our Outstanding Contribution to Anti-Doping Science award to Dr. Imelda Ryona of Q² Solutions, who was integral in the creation of dried plasma spot technology which offer an easy, uninvasive, and inexpensive alternative for athlete blood testing (see the acceptance video here ). Recently, we spoke with Dr. Ryona to find out how her career in anti-doping began.
Armed with a PhD in Food Science and a desire to augment her analytical skillset, Dr. Imelda Ryona wasted no time securing a PCC funded position working with Dr. Jack Henion. Now, she’s contributing to novel scientific advances in anti-doping.
Food Science is her calling…
Analytical chemistry has long been an interest of Dr. Ryona’s since her first research internship at the Department of Food Science at Cornell University, where she spent the summer working on quantitation of polyphenol content in cherry fruit. From there, she was hooked, and decided to make food science a career: “It was the opportunity to further explore such areas of study that led me to pursue a graduate degree. I obtained both an M.S. and a PhD in Food Science with a focus on grape and wine volatile analyses utilizing mainly gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS).”
But growing as a scientist led her to the anti-doping field
Dr. Ryona realized early in graduate school that to be a great analytical chemist, a broad range of skills and knowledge of analytical techniques was paramount. “Knowing how to utilize the GC/MS technique was important, but it was not comprehensive,” says Imelda. “I was very interested in learning more about liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS).”
Luckily for Dr. Ryona, she was introduced to Dr. Jack Henion of Quintiles Technologies through a Cornell entrepreneurship class during her studies. “It is well known that Dr. Jack Henion is one of the pioneers of LC/MS, so I wasted no time expressing to him my interest in learning the technique.” A few years later, the PCC funded an opportunity to work on a Dried Plasma Spot (DPS) project alongside Dr. Henion, which Dr. Ryona quickly seized.
And she found a great mentor
When asked which of her academic experiences best prepared her for anti-doping research, Dr. Ryona believes her background in analytical chemistry is important – but not the only factor: “I believe good analytical experiences along with good work ethic and being able to work well in a team are what prepare me best for this DPS project,” says Dr. Ryona, adding the importance of a great mentor in the field is also paramount to her growth: “Being respectful, diligent, disciplined, enthusiastic, fun, and having integrity are a great mentor’s characteristics that I’ve found and admired in Dr. Henion. I value his mentorship tremendously and consider myself blessed to have the opportunity of working with him on this DPS project.”
She’s working on some cutting edge technologies
Alongside Dr. Henion, Dr. Ryona is responsible for developing a sample device capable of generating plasma from whole blood without the need for centrifugation.
The technology holds a ton of potential for the anti-doping movement: “Through the PCC funded research led by Dr. Henion, we have developed a dried plasma spot sampling device in the form of a card. This card-type device consists of seven layers of materials providing different functionalities to produce up to four dried plasma spots on a card for fully automatic LC-MS/MS analysis. The [DPS card] requires only a micro volume (or drops!) of sample to facilitate precise analysis of abuse substances such as opioids and stimulants. With such a low volume needed, sample collection can be attained through finger-pricking, eliminating the need for a phlebotomist and making it easier to conduct both in and out of competition tests. This work would not come to a realization without PCC funding, so PCC support is very integral to our work.”
And hopes to see the project through to the end user
While Dr. Ryona and Dr. Henion are devoting considerable time to the DPS project, the device still requires additional work before it’s ready to manufacture, and Ryona intends to ensure the design is perfected: “I would like to see this card-type device being manufactured, further evaluated for varying analyses and inter-laboratory tests, and eventually being applied in the field.”
But Dr. Ryona also enjoys life outside of the lab
After learning about her background in food science, it’s no surprise Dr. Ryona is a fan of cuisine. “I love food, cooking, and baking. I love feeding people and spending time with family and friends! I also love travelling…of course while enjoying delicious food, wine, breathtaking nature, and diversity of culture.” She may even open up her own bakery or vocational cooking school in the future: “I believe that each one of us is unique and has his or her own set of gifts or talents. I desire to use my set of gifts in the best possible way to benefit not only myself but more so to those around me. However, I am quite glad to be a scientist and will stay on my current path for as long as possible.”
And has some tips for young scientists
“In research, there are days where the experiments do not go the way you have hypothesized. The results of the experiments may raise more questions than answers. You may feel down at times as you think you have just spent weeks of hard work and have not made any progress. Do not give up! I urge young scientists to keep working on and persevere. The hard work will pay off one way or the other.” She adds, “Life is more than just what our eyes can see and our ears can hear. Things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”
The PCC is proud to fund Dr. Ryona and her mentor Dr. Henion in their important work on Dried Plasma Spots. For questions about Dr. Ryona, or her contribution to anti-doping science, please email Jenna Celmer at email@example.com.
See the article that won Dr. Henion and Dr. Ryona the PCC’s 2017 award here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.analchem.6b03691 
See the award ceremony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQXF32VsZf4&t=109s