When Asanterabi Malima was 15, his father suffered a fatal heart attack at 57. He had been an accomplished scholar and minister in the Tanzanian government. “Everyone in my family is in politics,” said Malima, PhD’13, now a postdoctoral researcher in Northeastern’s Center for High Rate Nanomanufacturing.
In 2012, he and fellow Northeastern alumni Cihan Yilmaz, PhD’13, and Jaydev Upponi, PhD’12, founded Biolom. They started the biotechnology firm to commercialize a device they had developed at the center under the guidance of its director Ahmed Busnaina, the William Lincoln Smith Chair and professor in the College of Engineering.
Malima’s work has received significant recognition. In June, as part of Massachusetts’ celebration of Africa Week, Gov. Deval Patrick presented him with the Entrepreneurial Award, which honored his contribution to the state’s economic well-being and vitality. But not only does Biolom promise to improve the health and job prospects of the state’s residents, it also has the potential to cure disease in Malima’s native Tanzania, where cervical cancer is predominant.
Biolom’s device consists of four distinct areas, each of which can be optimized to detect a specific biomarker—such as those that indicate different types of cancer or cardiovascular disease. With cervical cancer, a device like this could be invaluable for its ability to quickly and inexpensively turn around diagnoses when the cancer is first taking root.
The team originally developed the device to detect colorectal cancer, but it pivoted to focus on liver cancer after an exhaustive field survey of clinicians, researchers, and members of the pharmaceutical industry.