Eye-opening: 7the Annual UCLA CMIT Nanotechnology Conference

“Eye-opening” is what I would call my recent take away from attending the recent the 7th annual workshop on “Micro- and Nanotechnologies for Medicine: Emerging Frontiers and Applications” which took place a few weeks ago at the UCLA CMIT (Center for Minimally Invasive Therapeutics). This is a five-day conference focusing on researches and applications using micro and nanotechnologies in developing new diagnostics, therapy, drug delivery, and regenerative medicine. The main emphasis included 3D-bioprinting, bioMEMS, biomaterials and tissue engineering. 

The conference is an initiative established by the event chair, Professor Ali Khademhosseini, who is also the Director at CMIT. 3DHEALS was invited to curate an entrepreneurship and commercialization panel for the conference because the event organizers understood the needs and challenges to move benchtop research into the real world as successful companies and make a real impact in healthcare.

7th Annual UCLA CMIT MNM Conference at the brand new Mong Auditorium

A few things concerned me before the event:

  • Will I understand the science presented at this conference?
  • Will the panel I curated be well received to this audience?
  • Will the time spend on this task worthwhile?

The conference itself answered positively to all three questions. (This also again demonstrates the importance of always saying “yes” to new adventures.)

Will I understand the science presented at this conference?

I was able to attend the Thursday afternoon scientific session, which was presented by three world-class scientists on developing sensors. (All three speakers are female scientists! YES!) Several of them, such as Dr. Pennathur (UCSB) and Dr. Meng (USC), are working on or have founded startups in the same space.  Here is a synopsis of their topics:

Sumita Pennathur (UCSB) – Micro and Nanotechnologies for Precision Medicine
Ellis Meng (USC) – Flexible Neural Probe Arrays For Large-Scale Cortical and Subcortical Recording
Michelle Khine (UCI) – Towards Ubiquitous Physiological Monitoring

The mixture of physics, biology, and future healthcare is extremely fascinating. As I am a firm believer that 90% of care can be done by patients at home (decentralized care), I am very encouraged to see how much the sensor space has advanced in the past few years and that new products for patients are around the corner. Funny enough, I happened to be testing out the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which drew a lot of attention and conversations around diabetic care. All I want to say is, “Dexcom should watch out for this group of scientists.”

Wearing a Dexcom CGM is a good conversation starter

Another interesting observation is that many of the presenters also have personal stories to share why they are so passionate about what they are developing. This echoes my feeling that innovations in medicine often happens from the outside, driven by patients’ needs and influenced by the technologies available at the time. This kind of story is seen within healthcare 3D printing industry repeatedly, and most notably the story of Align Technology, when the founder thought his dental brace ugly.

Will the panel I curated be well received to this audience?

The L.A. traffic always intimidates me, but all five of our invited speakers showed up on time. Dr. Chandler Robinson even flew red-eye from New York just to be at the conference. In their own unique styles, many speakers shared their own entrepreneur stories and their perspectives on how to be a successful startup founder in pharma, medical device, and biotech. The session was very engaging, and the room was often filled with laughter.

Entrepreneur panel speakers during Q&A

Jasson Crockett from the Los Angeles Mayor’s office spoke on the many benefits the city is providing to life science entrepreneurs, and welcome everyone to have a direct conversation with him. Mike Kijewski, CEO of MedCrypt, spoke on how to find co-founder, rising to opportunities, and how to be a successful introverted founder. Gurdane Bhutani, co-founder and managing director from FundRx, spoke on three fundraising tips for startup founders. (The one I remember well was “capturing the FOMO mentality of VCs”. Note to self.) Evan Tsang from Leap Biomed outlined the critical steps of product development in biotech and medtech space. Dr. Chandler Robinson, CEO of MonoPartx, told us how he sticks to his vision, broke out from traditional paths, and successfully sold his first pharma company, Tactic Pharma, a company that produces medication helping patients with Wilson disease.

Will the time spend on this task worthwhile?

“Time is really the only thing you owe.” – Anonymous

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (or who know you).” – Anonymous

Spending time with a collective of brilliant minds from all over the world, forging relationships and collaborating on impactful projects, diving into discussions that can change the world in the next five to ten years is time well-spent to me. Nearly everyone I talked to has a dream of his or her own. The forward-looking “I can” attitude of the conference crowd is inspiring, infectious, and uplifting.

I hope to attend this conference again next year.

The whole gang at the 2019 7th Annual MNM conference

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