Sirk’s research is focused on engineering innovative new approaches for the production and delivery of biological therapeutics, including cancer therapies. The Sirk lab’s overarching goal is to reduce cost and increase access to cutting-edge treatments, with a specific focus on engineered antibodies. In order to circumvent the standard processes of manufacturing and administering these drugs, Sirk and her group are developing platforms to establish in vivo cellular reservoirs capable of producing these therapeutic proteins from within the body in a sustained and controlled manner. Sirk is currently pursuing this technology via gut microbial metabolic engineering and targeted in vivo gene editing. Sirk’s secondary interest lies in the study and engineering of microbial metabolic pathways responsible for metabolizing dietary compounds found in plants. Specifically, in investigating the ability of gut commensal bacteria to transform glucosinolates, a class of compounds found in brassica vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), into cancer-preventive activated metabolites.
Sirk obtained an A.B. in Biology at Occidental College before moving on to the University of California to pursue her Ph.D. in Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. Sirk continued her research as a postdoctoral fellow in protein engineering and genome editing at The Scripps Research Institute. While completing her postdoctoral research, Sirk worked as an adjunct professor in biology at Santa Clara University. Sirk also completed a postdoctoral program in gut microbial metabolism and genetics at Stanford University before joining the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Sirk is an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Carle Illinois College of Medicine. In addition to her role as an Associate Member at the CCIL, Sirk is an Affiliate in the Microbiome Metabolic Engineering Theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, leads the Sirk Research Group, and is the Associate Director of the Illinois Microbial Systems Initiative.