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Issue Date: September 1-15, 2007, Posted On: 9/7/2007


Prognosis positive for Mass. lab

Nanobiosym takes rapid testing to far-flung areas

By MARK PECHENIK

   
 

Dr. Anita Goel's Nanobiosym has developed a quick medical diagnostic tool.

MEDFORD, Mass. — Asked what inspired her to form a company three years ago, Dr. Anita Goel, founder and chief executive officer of Nanobiosym Inc., cites a holistic worldview that is global — a healthy blend of East and West.

"Growing up in one of the few Indian families in rural Mississippi, I developed an early fascination with physics and mathematics, on the one hand, and solving practical problems of biomedicine, on the other," said Goel, 33.

From this foundation, Goel sought to bridge the gap between physics and medicine, two very different but equally compelling areas of research in her life. "As I immersed myself into both fields, I noticed a deep divide between these two disciplines that, in essence, hardly talk to each other," said Goel.

"Our current physics, for instance, does not fully come to terms with life and living systems. And our modern medicine is primarily practiced at the level of molecular biology and biochemistry," she added. "Very little is understood about the role of physics in physiological processes. I have always believed in an underlying unity or wholeness in nature. Thus began my quest to bridge physics and medicine. Nanotechnology just happens to be an arena where physics and biomedicine meet."

Born in Worcester, Mass., and raised in the deep south, Goel's early influences combined with her technological vision led her to founding both Nanobiosym Labs and Nanobiosym Diagnostics Inc. Nanobiosym Labs focuses on fundamental research at the interface of physics, medicine, and nanotechnology, as well as maximizing the global impact of this synergy. Nanobiosym Diagnostics is a commercial product company that develops diagnostic capabilities. The first of these products, Gene-RADAR, will bring rapid, accurate, portable molecular diagnostic capabilities to clinics, battlefields, and homes, according to Goel.

Gene-RADAR has far-reaching implications for diagnostic testing. "Currently, when a patient with a suspected staph or other infection comes to us in the hospital, a blood sample is taken and sent down to the pathology lab for blood culture. It often takes several days for the diagnostic results to come back. In practice, doctors typically move forward to treat the patient with empiric antibiotics based on their best clinical guess," she said.

Through Gene-RADAR, however, a drop of blood or saliva is inserted into a handheld device, enabling diagnosis within minutes. This device, with its low cost, portability, and ability to function in a wide range of environments is poised to meet some of the most pressing health-care needs of the developing world. "For instance, the World Health Organization could quickly scan a remote village hit by a mysterious epidemic," Goel explained. "Point-of-care diagnostic technologies like Gene-RADAR will quickly identify the cause of an outbreak as well as enable rapid response to deal with the crisis before it spreads. The spread of epidemics like SARS or Avian Flu could be much more efficiently contained if such rapid response capabilities were readily available."

Much of this product's potential can be traced to its use of nanotechnology. "In essence, nanotechnology allows us to probe and manipulate matter at much finer scales than is traditionally possible," said Goel. "It is all about control. Gene-RADAR enables much more precise control over the DNA/RNA detection process, leading to much greater sensitivity and specificity of diagnosis than conventional approaches."

Goel compares the potential impact of Gene- RADAR with the paradigm shift created by the introduction of cell phones in the telecommunications industry. "The advent of portable phones has revolutionized global communication," she said. "By taking clinical diagnosis out of the pathology lab and into remote areas where it is needed most, we envision creating entirely new global markets."

History is full of brilliant concepts that have failed due to poor business planning, but Goel believes this won't be the case with Nanobiosym as its products are generally not a hard sell. To date, military agencies, federal biodefense agencies, health care organizations and biopharmaceutical companies have shown commercial interest in Gene-RADAR. Government officials have been quick to recognize the potential of this technology that could enable real-time, on-site detection of biohazards following bioterrorist attacks and widespread epidemics.

Goel's work at Nanobiosym has been recognized by several funding awards from the United States Department of Defense agencies including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

A Harvard- and MIT-trained physicist and physician, Goel was named in 2005 one of the world's top-35 science and technology innovators under the age of 35 by MIT's Technology Review Magazine. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in physics from Harvard University, which she earned in 2002, a medical doctor degree from the Harvard-MIT Joint Division of Health Sciences and Technology in 2005 and a bachelor's degree in physics from Stanford University awarded in 1995.

Goel points to Nanobiosym's team as being a particularly vibrant source of strength for her company. "All of us believe in making the world a better place," she said. Consequently, when it comes to hiring new staff, Goel believes the best approach is to seek out those who have the same can-do attitude that she tries to exemplify. "First, I look for technical competence — do they have the skills and knowledge to excel at the job," she said. "But, at the same time, I also look for applicants who have that special spark of passion, creativity, and enthusiastic drive to help fulfill our mission and milestones on-time."

"When it comes to working for this company, we like to cultivate a sense of idealism about making a positive difference to society," said Goel. Her management style reflects this corporate commitment. She spends quality time cultivating her staff, encouraging them to align their individual mission with the company's mission, primarily by leading through example."

"Dr. Goel is a leader with passion and a dream to better society through science," said Zubin Bagwadia, a member of the operations and business development team at Nanobiosym. "She has a disciplined vision and implements creative and effective strategies to achieve our goals."

Despite such praise, Goel already has her eyes set on greater achievements. "While I am grateful for the kudos," she said, "there is still much more to be done and miles to go before we have achieved our goals and can rest."

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