The Cancer DetectiveBy Lavina Melwani • Jul 26th, 2012 • Category: 24/7 Talk is Cheap - The Blog
Roaring Twenties: This is the third in a series on people in their 20′s whose impact has been felt in fields ranging from medicine to finance to the non-profit world. What makes them tick, what gets them through rough times and what are their dreams for the future?
There are not too many people in their 20′s who have discovered a new, easy way to detect cancer in its earliest stages, raised funds for this research and also become the CEO of a corporation which creates the patents for this breaking technology.
Raj Krishnan of San Diego, California has done all three. While Ph.D students in Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) he and his friend David Charlot created Biological Dynamics, along with Professor Michael Heller. Raj and his team have developed innovative blood tests that use electric fields to detect key signals that a patient has cancer from the blood. “The technology itself is a microchip in a plastic cartridge,” he says. “You insert blood into the cartridge where it reaches the microchip, which uses AC Electric Fields to isolate cancer biomarkers from the blood.”
Detecting Cancer in the Early Stages
The isolation and identification of these biomarkers, which are nucleic acid based (i.e. DNA & RNA), allows him to identify cancer at its earliest stages since those with cancer have a higher level and a larger size of DNA in their blood. This also helps treat cancer by identifying mutations in the cancer by looking at the tumor DNA and finding the best therapy to treat it.
“Our goal is to use this technology to find cancer early in patients where the 5-year survival rate is 90% for a lot of cancers, and also to perform a “liquid biopsy” in patients to perform treatment monitoring,” says Raj. This is a major development as cancer is generally hard to detect in the early stages.
Currently there are a lot of chemical and mechanical methods and kits that are used to isolate the DNA but these methods are time consuming, costly, degrade the DNA and need a lot of hands-on time to make sure the process of isolation is occurring correctly.
“Our method comes out of left field, so to speak, and uses electric fields to isolate the DNA,” explains Raj. “This method allows us to isolate the DNA in 15 minutes or less in any complex physiological solution like blood, plasma, serum, or urine by just a push of the button. Additionally, because it is electric fields, the DNA is not destroyed or changed in any way and you do not need any chemical reagents or spin columns.”
Raj and his family lived in Calcutta, and later spent three years in Indonesia until they moved to San Jose, CA, when he was eleven. Education was always very important to his family and he has early memories of his father, who was in textiles, quizzing him in his multiplication tables. A right answer got him chocolate from his father’s many travels, and a wrong answer a small bump on the head! His mother, who was a teacher, was a real Indian Tiger Mom – but without the pressure. Not surprisingly, Raj received a B.S. in electrical engineering from UCLA and an M.S. in bioengineering from UCSD.
A math and science wiz, he says, “I didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle in 10 years designing a smaller cell phone. I realized the best way I could have an impact was by building tools for the medical world.”
Back in the difficult economy of 2009, it was a challenge raising start-up funding for his nascent research. Using out-of-the-box thinking, Raj turned to competitions and entrepreneurship challenge grants. That year he won every contest he entered – 12 awards and $50,000. The UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge competition helped him to raise initial funds through angel investor/high net worth individual networks in San Diego. Once the momentum built up, Raj was able to obtain the rest of the Series A funds.
Ask Raj what’s the most rewarding, and he says: “When we get the systems to work right, get the cancer data, and convince others beyond a doubt about our technology. The look in their eyes when they finally accept and get excited about the technology and realize its amazing capabilities is one of my favorite moments!”
Work is all important, but Raj also likes to play basketball and video games, and lounge in the sun, taking advantage of San Diego’s amazing weather and wonderful beaches. He is very much an eligible bachelor who’s been just too occupied with work to find the right woman but he says he’s more than ready now.
What gets him through the ups and downs of life? His answer is simple: ” Faith, prayer and talking to my parents.” To that he adds a line which shows how deep his passion is for what he does: ” I also believe that this technology is worth fighting for because it will save a lot of lives, so whenever I feel down, I keep that thought in my head and try to fight through the problem.”
He is particularly glad his parents pushed him to debating societies to overcome his shyness as a kid, for this has come in very handy in his career as a cancer researcher and fundraiser. He laughs, “You can’t be shy when you have to ask for millions of dollars for research. You have to kind of kick the door down when you can do so much good!”
(C) Lavina Melwani
(This article first appeared in Hi Blitz)
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