INNOCENT DLAMINI

A young boy races home from school, bare-footed, considering his next soccer move and how he might escape his daily chores to test it out. Amidst this juxtaposition of responsibility and daydreams, an explorer takes his first steps.

"Having shoes to wear was a luxury," he explains, "but it was a very happy childhood. This was our only view of the world."


A UNIQUE LENS

As a young boy growing up in a small agricultural community of only 1,000 people in Swaziland, Innocent Dlamini spent his days caring for livestock, attending school and stealing moments to practice soccer. His days began before sunrise, typically at 4:30, when he would awaken to help care for the cows before walking several miles to primary school with his peers.

"Having shoes to wear was a luxury," he explains, "but it was a very happy childhood. This was our only view of the world."

Innocent recalls many afternoons racing home from school with his friends to see who could run the multi-mile path the fastest. He laughs, "Everyone was hungry, we wanted to get back quickly.” Upon arriving home, his job was to once again care for the cows, as was the tradition for all boys in the village. Although he had an intense passion for soccer, sports were discouraged by the adults and perceived as an unwelcome distraction from the primary goal of caring for livestock. “It was our responsibility to get all the cows into a designated area before dark. We’d be punished for playing sports, so we'd make a soccer ball out of whatever we could find and create our own field. We'd get in trouble, but it was worth it." At this very early age, Innocent began to consider new boundaries.

NURTURING A SPARK

Even with the welcome athletic distractions, Innocent was always an excellent student, achieving consistently top grades. However, the typical path for children in the village was to leave school before graduating high school and begin working in the fields.

His father, a supervisor at a sugar plantation, was only able to come home to visit Innocent and his five siblings about once a month. Yet he recognized Innocent’s potential immediately. “My dad transferred me to the school in the town where he worked so that I could continue my education,” Innocent reminisces. Working awkward shifts to spend time supporting Innocent's studies, his dad helped him to become the top student in the country and, at the time, the only child who went on to college from their village.

Innocent credits his dad's unique perspective as driving his success.

"He saw things in me that no one else could ... even me. He saw my potential and didn't hesitate. He always encouraged me, energized me, he was my pillar."

A NEW LANDSCAPE

Innocent's years of hard work paid off and he was soon offered a full scholarship to a 2-year International Baccalaureate program designed to merge academics with civic engagement. Attracting students from all over the world, Innocent soon found himself in India, a country with a population of over a billion people, few of whom spoke English. He recalls feeling both thrilled and nervous at his new reality. "Initially I was excited to leave home and see the world. I wasn't worried until I landed and everyone was speaking Hindi and I thought, 'What did I do?'" Nevertheless, Innocent got to work and went on to graduate from the program with flying colors.

STEPPING STONES

Innocent then traveled to the pastoral landscape of Minnesota, where he studied physics and mathematics at Macalester College on a full scholarship. Jokingly he recalls the sharp contrast of the heat of India to one of the coldest climates in the United States.

"The people were so warm, it made up for it. I couldn't afford to fly home for holidays and they took me in."

After earning his undergraduate degree, he took a year off and worked in information technology before entering the Biomedical Engineering Master’s program at Duke University.

"I had an interest in science from the very beginning, but it wasn't well defined because my early schooling was so broad. These later experiences allowed me to really explore what I could be."

In January 2011, Innocent joined Regeneron, his first job out of graduate school, as part of the Formulation Development team. Though he was unable to visit home for some time, he found comfort in science:

"It's been very tough being away from my family, but my love for science and the opportunities at Regeneron make it worth it."

In June 2014, Innocent transferred to the Protein Biochemistry division, where he uses a battery of sophisticated biochemical and biophysical tools to run extended characterization of Regeneron reference standards from post-IND through BLA . His work includes Capillary Electrophoresis-oligosaccharide fingerprinting (CE-oligo), Size Exclusion Chromatography with Multi-Angle Laser Light Scattering (SEC-MALLS), Fluorescence, and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) with the goal of helping analyze and characterize molecules to ensure comparability from batch to batch and monitor stability over time.

"We have a responsibility to verify that these medicines are worthy of the people who will receive them."

FINDING NEW ROOTS

Today, Innocent's day still begins before sunrise when he prepares breakfast for his family, including wife Dotty and their three children. After dropping the kids at school and daycare, he is usually at his desk early, ready to get a jump on the day. By 9:30 he's already addressed countless emails and connected with colleagues about research plans before heading into the lab. "Our team is almost collegiate in approach. Everyone is very innovative and eager. Our conversations always revert to the science."

After a day in the lab, Innocent often picks up his children to bring them home for dinner and bedtime routines before returning to Regeneron for one of his most important roles as a member of the company soccer team. He chuckles,

"Luckily, soccer is now allowed."

FROM SCIENCE TO MEDICINE

Innocent hopes that future scientists embrace the same perspective that helped propel his journey. "The field is broad and there is so much each of us can do. It's important to expose yourself to new opportunities and be open minded to the paths ahead." He continues, "Never forget that the language of science is a great equalizer. It doesn't matter where you come from or who you are - once you start speaking science, you are instantly part of one very objective family."