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Class Notes May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Nano Detectives
Raj Krishnan, M.S. '06, Ph.D. '08

Have you founded a company? Worked at a company started by a UCSD alum? We want to know. 
Drop us a note

Twenty-eight-year-old Raj Krishnan, M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’08, isn’t trying to cure cancer, but the biotech company he started as a graduate student is working towards accomplishing the next best thing. 

With the help of Michael Heller, a professor of nanoengineering, Krishnan and his team of UC San Diego graduate students are developing the technology to detect early-stage cancer in a way that was previously thought impossible—by isolating nanoparticle-sized cancer biomarkers from a patient’s bloodstream using AC electric fields.

“Surprisingly, there’s not too much cancer-detection research that’s being done out there,” says Krishnan. “If you were to get most types of cancer, we don’t know you have cancer until it’s stage 3 or stage 4 and has spread all over your body. At stage 1, your survival rate is greater than 95 percent for virtually every cancer, and your cost is less than a tenth. [With chemotherapy] we fight poison with poison, and in the end you’re the one who’s depleted and dying. So our goal is to minimize that by finding it early and getting rid of it.”

Krishnan stumbled upon a breakthrough while doing late-night experiments in Heller’s laboratory as a bioengineering graduate student. Realizing the potential of rapid and cost-effective early-detection diagnostics, Krishnan, Heller, grad student David Charlot, M.S. ’08, Ph.D. ’08, and Edward Truitt co-founded Biological Dynamics.

Krishnan began relentlessly entering competitions, eventually winning over $55,000 in prize money and 17 awards, including first place in the UCSD Entrepreneur’s Challenge and the Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo in 2009. Realizing that they had a viable company, Krishnan began fund raising in earnest, securing backing from high net-worth individuals and raising over $2 million in angel investments.

“When I originally came to UCSD, I told Professor Heller I wanted to start a company, because that was my dream, and I wanted to work in the field of cancer,” Krishnan says.

Krishnan hopes his technology will become widely available within the next 15 years and can help lower the cost of health care.

“These are $20 to $50 blood tests that anybody could pay for,” says Krishnan. “You end up democratizing these therapies.”

—Yelena Akopian, Muir ’11