Tyler Nelson always imagined that some day he’d be working for a large corporation engaged in the work of biotechnology. But the fourth-year PhD student in bioengineering has broadened his scope.
“I’m starting to realize that maybe I want something different and the idea of entrepreneurship is really attractive,” says Nelson. “Making something based on your research, and looking back to say it succeeded or failed – that kind of independence appeals to me.”
Nelson recently got a substantial boost for his research efforts when he was named an American Heart Association (AHA) Fellowship Award winner. The award began January 1 and will extend through 2017.
AHA is supporting Nelson’s project, titled ‘The effects of diet induced obesity on lymphatic function and therapeutic intervention in lymphedema progression,’ with an award totaled at $52,000 over two years.
“Lymphedema affects about one in six cancer survivors,” says Nelson, who works in the lab of J. Brandon Dixon, faculty member of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “It basically occurs as the result of some common cancer treatments, like lymph node removal, chemotherapy, radiation.”
The disease causes irreversible swelling, mostly in the arms or legs. It results from a blockage in the lymphatic system (part of your immune system). This blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well and that fluid buildup leads to swelling. There is presently no cure, but lymphedema can be managed with early diagnosis.
“It turns out that people who are obese develop lymphedema at a much higher rate than the rest of the population,” Nelson says. “We want to understand how obesity affects the lymphatic system and its function.”
Nelson, who is from the Nashville, Tennessee, area, earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Mississippi State. After enrolling at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he joined Dixon’s Laboratory of Lymphatic Biology and Bioengineering (LLBB), where researchers focus on developing non-invasive methods to quantify lymphatic function.
He’s always been interested in pursuing a career in industry once he earns his PhD. But since arriving at Georgia Tech, is thoughts on what that might look like have shifted a little bit.
“Now, I’m thinking that I’d really like to start up a small company, or work with an early-stage company,” he says.
That line of thought is driven in part by his experience in the TI:GER (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program, administered through the Scheller College of Business at Tech. The program is designed to teach students how to address the multidisciplinary issues that are part of technology commercialization.
Through TI:GER, Nelson has teamed with two MBA students and two Emory Law students. Together, they’re focused on the commercialization of diagnostic and monitoring devices for lymphedema.
The team, called Lumenostics, is working on a product designed to detect swelling in the earliest stages of the disease. This semester, the students will be engaged in business plan competitions.
“The training I’ve gotten through TI:GER is irreplaceable,” Nelson says. “It really sets you apart and gives you great exposure to the business side of research.”
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Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience