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AnimalBiome Has a New Molecular Biologist! Introducing Kirsten Copren

Before joining the AnimalBiome team, Kirsten Copren ran a biotech lab focused on cancer genomics at UCSF, trained hard-working teams of scientists, and way-back when was an organismal biologist studying insect genetics. We asked her about her background, her work at AnimalBiome, and of course her pets.

AnimalBiome Has a New Molecular Biologist, Kirsten Copren

What initially drew you to AnimalBiome?

I was really impressed by Holly Ganz, the CEO of AnimalBiome, and by the company’s mission—to understand what makes a well-balanced cat or dog gut microbiome versus an imbalanced one, to explore the health implications involved, and to develop solutions for pets with chronic digestive issues. AnimalBiome is based on a great idea—microbiome testing and affordable, oral fecal transplant capsules for pets. I jumped at the opportunity to have a positive impact on pet health through research and development of innovative solutions—and to work on a dream team!  

Kirsten Copren in the AnimalBiome lab
Kirsten working hard in the AnimalBiome lab

Tell us about your role at AnimalBiome. What is exciting to you about it?

It’s exciting to be able to use highly sensitive, yet affordable, genetic testing to improve the digestive health of dogs and cats. As a genome scientist, I get to develop a unique laboratory product using novel (to me) bacterial genomes. Previously, I worked in human medicine, developing genetic tests for cancer detection. Most pre-clinical research that impacts our understanding of human medicine is done with mice. But what we learn about cats and dogs also influences what we know about humans. In fact, dogs may be a better model for understanding human digestive illnesses than mice because our diets are more similar. Digestive issues are among the most pesky of problems, and understanding what is happening in animals informs how we treat ourselves. Translating my experience in precision medicine for humans to precision medicine for animals is definitely an exciting challenge.  

How did you spend your time before working with us?

I created highly sensitive genetic tests to diagnose and prognose all types of cancer in all tissue types. I ran a translational research core facility at UC San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, specializing in contract research laboratory services and product development. I was really running a small business for highly technical medical researchers, clinicians, surgeons and pathologists within a university of over 30,000 staff members.  

My field of expertise is genome analysis, which is the laboratory science of measuring the genome to identify biomarkers that are relevant to a specific trait (e.g. a disease trait). Doing genome analysis requires a variety of skills in the realms of biology, laboratory science, statistics, computation, and economics. I worked in a highly regulated laboratory environment and now have over a decade of laboratory management and development experience to bring to AnimalBiome. One of my biggest joys was hiring, training, and mentoring teams of scientists and research associates.

Prior to my work at UCSF, I was a research entomologist working for the U.S.D.A after having specialized in insect genetics in my studies at UC Davis and UC Berkeley.  I have a long history of designing and executing technological innovations to measure a variety of biological traits.

You’ve been with AnimalBiome for about six months now. What accomplishments or in-progress goals are you proud of?

I’m proud of the turnaround time improvements for our microbiome testing results. Bringing the DNA laboratory work in-house has enabled us to provide pet parents with faster results, allowing them to make decisions about an ill pet within a clinically actionable time frame. Whereas we started with a turnaround time of about 6-8 weeks, we now can accomplish the same output in 2-4 weeks. I look forward to continued laboratory improvements that will speed up our data and return even more value to our customers.

Also, after seeing firsthand some of the dogs and cats we have helped, I’ve changed my diet to better support the bacteria in my own gut.

Do you have any pets? Did you grow up with cats or dogs around the house?

Yes, when I was a child we had many cats and dogs. I remember all of them fondly. The first pets I had myself were two rats. They were the best pets! When I was a teenager, I had my first cat, Simon, whom I was solely responsible for. Currently my family has two new pet rats. After working for so many years on the mouse genome, I have come to respect the importance of research on mice to the advancement of human health.  It seemed only sensible to introduce my children to animal care with these wonderful rodents.

Nibble the pet rat
Nibble the pet rat

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy weightlifting, spending time with my family, camping, hiking, listening to music, reading science fiction and memoirs, and going to barbecues. I’m working to reduce my family’s consumption of resources towards zero waste. I like to stay informed and involved in my neighborhood, and I try to make it an environmentally healthier place. I also advocate for cancer research and for monarch butterflies.

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