HoPE: A new diagnostic tool for stroke patients
Note: Shabnam Jafari was a Keller Pathway Fellow in 2019/20. This interview was conducted in winter 2020.
After obtaining a B.S. in chemistry at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Shabnam Jafari continued her education with a M.S. in organic chemistry from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Today Jafari is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis and a graduate student researcher.
In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.
I have been working on the development of molecular rotor dye-containing sensors for detection of opioids and plasma proteins for the past three years as a graduate student researcher. This project was the inspiration for our current idea at StarBio. StarBio is developing a rapid diagnostic Homogenous Point-of-Care Evaluation (HoPE) for stroke patients that will correctly identify ischemic stroke in only 10 minutes. HoPE will significantly reduce the time to start the treatment and greatly improve patient outcomes.
The HoPE diagnostic tool can significantly decrease the time to diagnosis and treatment for ischemic stroke patients and greatly improve patient outcome.
What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?
Over 15 million people suffer from strokes every year worldwide, with 800,000 in the U.S. alone, making it the second highest leading cause of death. Strokes are caused by an abrupt interruption of blood to the brain. During a stroke the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen or nutrients and two million brain cells die every minute that a stroke is untreated. Strokes must be correctly diagnosed by subtype and treated quickly to minimize brain damage. Misdiagnosis and improper treatment will harm and potentially kill the patient. Existing assessment of stroke patients is based largely on detailed clinical evaluation that is complemented by neuroimaging methods that can take hours from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis. As every minute is critical, waiting hours for an accurate diagnosis is a big problem.
There is currently an unmet need for an accurate and fast diagnostic test. Emerging data points to the use of blood-derived biomarkers in aiding clinical decision-making especially in the diagnosis of ischemic stroke.
The HoPE diagnostic tool is a solution to fulfilling the unmet needs in acute stroke management. StarBio’s technology employs a diagnostic method developed at UC Davis that will quickly and accurately detect specific blood biomarkers. This simple test requires no special training, and the testing platform is readily portable to provide a point-of-care test that can be performed by emergency responders. We hope that this diagnostic test will be widely available to emergency care providers in the United States.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Being a scientist is not easy. It’s long hours and a lot of sacrifice, but when you find a problem that pulls you in, it’s just thrilling. My passion for science goes beyond bench side, and I am passionate about translating advanced bench bed technology into exciting potential market opportunities so that people can benefit from science and technology.
I believe by serving my own intellectual curiosity, I am also serving others and that is what motivates me and makes me keep going.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
Being an entrepreneur and a successful team leader is not only about scientific achievements or having the best ideas. It is more about making a great interdisciplinary team and network.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
It is better to be prescriptive and wrong, than vague and
Getting an enforceable answer leads to action which leads to learning.
Briefly describe your Big Bang! project/venture. How is participation in the Big Bang! workshops and competition helping you an aspiring entrepreneur?
We are developing a rapid diagnostic Homogenous Point-of-Care Evaluation (HoPE) for stroke patients which will correctly identify ischemic stroke in only 10 minutes. HoPE will significantly reduce the time to treatment and greatly improve patient outcomes. HoPE can be used by emergency responders either on-site or in emergency rooms to get a fast and accurate diagnosis in order to begin treatment.
The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?
This program has equipped me with so many important skills—perseverance, confidence, strategic thinking, networking and more—that will help me overcome the barriers projected onto women entrepreneurs.
I have also realized the significance of women empowering other women and the importance of having a strong support system.
I am truly grateful to receive this fellowship and be part of a cohort of talented women who inspire and support each other.
How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?
This program is helping me gain confidence in my capabilities. It not only reminded me that I have so much potential within myself, but also taught me how to uncover it. I believe being a Keller Fellow will give me the necessary skills and experiences to navigate the business side of the science as a scientist myself, which makes me a particularly strong candidate for industry positions.