Award-Winning Cancer Nanotechnology Entrepreneur Credits His Scientific Start to ARL

As Camilo Vanegas, an HCPSS alumnus, works toward completing graduate school at the University of Maryland (UMB) School of Medicine, he’s also moving forward with his award-winning startup, Nanobernetics. His business is working to offer a device that detects chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer with a high relapse rate.

Vanegas’ “innate curiosity about everything” originally drew him to science. It wasn’t until his time at Atholton High School, however, that he discovered the opportunities available at the HCPSS Applications and Research Laboratory (ARL) and the scientific world outside the classroom. Vanegas said, “ARL’s Biotechnology Career Academy really showed me how to think like a scientist and how being a scientist in a lab is much different than being a science student in a classroom. It’s something that’s followed me my whole life.”

After graduating from Atholton, Vanegas attended the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), ultimately earning a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology. There he developed a passion for improving people’s lives and decided to attend the Graduate Program in Life Sciences at UMB. He is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular Medicine program working on understanding the mechanisms behind skeletal muscle movement and disease.

While in college, Vanegas also became interested in entrepreneurship, taking available classes at UMCP. He became more determined to learn about starting a business as part of an international competition called the Nanotechnology Startup Challenge in Cancer. The competition is an accelerator program that gives participants access to technology invented within the National Institutes of Health.

This past year, Vanegas and his partner were one of 10 winning teams in the challenge, receiving support for Nanobernetics. Their chronic myeloid leukemia detection device is in the license application process. Once NIH has licensed it for medical use, the startup will construct prototypes.

“We’re using carbon nanotubes to directly detect a biological target by coupling it with electrical properties. My graduate project had to do with electrophysiology, so I’ve had to learn about electricity and its unique relationship with biology. I’ve always loved technology, and the development of carbon nanotubes/graphene is exponentially increasing,” he explained.

Vanegas now serves on the ARL Biotechnology Academy Board of Advisors. It’s a way for him to give back to the program that did so much for him. “If I could beg every student to come here and learn here, I would. With the tools that you learn here, you can actually go about contributing to scientific knowledge. I can’t credit this place more for how my career turned out,” Vanegas concluded.