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, a grad­uate of the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering and now a post­doc­toral researcher in Northeastern’s Center for High Rate Nanoman­u­fac­turing.

They all expected he’d keep with the family busi­ness, but his father’s early passing set Malima on a dif­ferent course. “My pas­sion was always to develop some kind of tech­nology to diag­nose dis­eases ear­lier, to come up with some­thing that wouldn’t save my father, since he’d already passed away, but may save some­body else’s parent,” Malima said.

In 2012, this vision became a reality when he founded Biolom with fellow North­eastern alumni Cihan Yilmaz, PhD’13, and Jaydev Upponi, PhD’12, grad­u­ates of the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering and the Depart­ment of Phar­ma­ceu­tical Sci­ences, respec­tively. 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.

Their device is smaller than a pin­head and has the capacity to diag­nose a variety of dis­eases at their ear­liest stages.

NUChip

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.

 

In more than 50 per­cent of the patients that have tumors, they are missed” Malima said. That’s because the bio­marker that clin­i­cians typ­i­cally use to mon­itor for the dis­ease doesn’t reach mean­ingful con­cen­tra­tions until a tumor has grown to sig­nif­i­cant size. “Usu­ally once some­body develops symp­toms, he or she only has about nine to 12 months to live,” Malima explained.

But there are other approaches to detecting liver cancer, namely two other less-​​often used bio­markers. The team decided to recon­figure its device to be able to detect all three bio­markers simul­ta­ne­ously. The approach, Malima explained, is expected to bring clin­ical sen­si­tivity from 50 to 90 per­cent when the com­bi­na­tion of bio­markers is used.

Starting a com­pany has brought with it its own set of unique chal­lenges, quite dis­tinct from those of any engi­neering problem that Malima has yet encoun­tered. Along the way, Biolom has received sup­port from the Center for Research Inno­va­tion, the Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs pro­gram, and IDEA—Northeastern’s student-​​run ven­ture accelerator—which pro­vided men­toring as well as gap funding to sup­port the clin­ical val­i­da­tion studies that are now underway.

I never thought of myself as an entre­pre­neur,” Malima said. He expected to be the brains in the back­ground, qui­etly tin­kering away at large firms like Toshiba, where he worked for sev­eral months before pur­suing his grad­uate edu­ca­tion at North­eastern. Instead he’s working at the cut­ting edge of an industry that promises to change the face of dis­ease diag­nosis as we know it.

His father would be proud.

- See more at: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2014/07/malimabiolomentrepreneurship/#sthash.Anf7GXT6.dpuf