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Georgia Tech/Emory University biomedical engineering grad student is Health-Care Heroes finalist.

A Ph.D. student at the Georgia Institute of Technology is a finalist for the Rising Star Award in the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Health-Care Heroes Awards program, Thursday, May 15, 6-9 p.m., at the Cobb Energy Centre. And in a way, it’s something he’s been preparing for his entire life.

Robert Mannino was diagnosed at six-months-old with beta thalassemia major, a rare blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. One of his little brothers also has the disease. So, at 16 Mannino started thinking about what he wanted to do with his future.

“I’d been in and out of hospitals every three weeks getting blood transfusions since I was a baby, and that exposure to the medical field influenced my college choice,” says Mannino.

“After dealing with this struggle, and seeing my little brother go through it, I decided that I’d like to try my hand at doing biomedical research, and commit myself to finding ways to overcome this disease.”

So, he began his research endeavor as a Petit Undergraduate Research Scholar in 2012 and went on to earn his B.S. in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and now is a first-year grad student working in Wilbur Lam’s lab, which is dedicated to applying and developing micro/nanotechnologies to study, diagnose, and treat blood disorders, cancer, and childhood diseases.

For Mannino, who grew up in Atlanta, making regular visits to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s) for treatments, this is a happy convergence.

“I’ve been going to Children’s my whole life, and I’ve lived close to one of the best biomedical research institutions in the country, Georgia Tech, my whole life.” “At some point, I decided that I’d like to try my hand at doing biomedical research,” says Mannino, one of 37 Georgia Tech students to be awarded an National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in April. “So it all kind of worked out.”

As a curious teen, Mannino asked his primary care physician, Jeanne Boudreaux, if she knew of anyone working on blood diseases like his. “She referred me to this new guy who’d just come over from the University of California-San Francisco, who was starting a lab here and doing some cool stuff,” Mannino says.

She was referring him to Lam, who offered Mannino a post as an undergraduate researcher.

“Rob is the complete package: Smart but humble, motivated but low key, thoughtful but also fun to be around. In a nutshell, he’s a star,” says Lam, Mannino’s Ph.D. advisor, and also a pediatric hematologist at Children’s. “He’s won an NSF fellowship developing novel diagnostics for his disease. He’s co-authored papers and given national presentations on blood diseases similar to what he has.

“It’s been a real pleasure watching him grow from an undergraduate with barely any research experience into a bona fide bioengineer and scientist. His drive to develop new technologies to help others with his disease is truly inspirational.”

The 17th annual Health-Care Heroes Awards honors individuals and organizations demonstrating excellence and deserving recognition in the health-care community. Thursday night’s event will include a panel discussion from past winners, the awards ceremony and a buffet dinner.

Awards will be given in several categories: Lifetime Achievement, Physician, Healthcare Innovation, Allied Health Professional, Community Outreach, Military Service, and Rising Star. Regardless of who gets the nod, Mannino is glad for the recognition.

“This is great exposure for the lab and what we’re doing,” says Mannino, who is working on the development of microfluidic devices to study a range of hematologic diseases, with the goal of developing point-of-care diagnostic tools to be used to treat diseases like his, especially in resource poor settings.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Colly Mitchell
  • Created: 05/14/2014
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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