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Biomedical company 3i Nanotech emerges out of Gateway University Research Park

By John Joyce
Reporter, Triad Business Journal (Greensboro, NC)

November 30, 2018

NOVEMBER 30, 2018, GREENSBORO, NC -- When a heart attack strikes, every minute matters.

The ability to quickly and accurately diagnose and begin to treat a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death and irreparable damage to the heart’s muscle tissue.

So a handheld device in an ambulance that can say definitively whether a person is having a heart attack and how severe it might be would be useful.

Taylor Mabe thought so. Mabe has been a Ph.D. student at the UNC-Greensboro for four years, and just last week earned the right to include the letters behind his name. Mabe and his professor, Jianjun Wei, together at UNCG and N.C. A&T State University’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering at Gateway University Research Park, developed a company called 3i Nanotech, or 3i Nano for short.

They came up with a product that accomplishes through a device what previously could only have be done in a hospital. The device checks for the troponin, a protein that's present in blood during cardiac arrest.

It's not where Mabe saw himself just a few short years ago.

"I had been a musician my whole life," he said. He auditioned and had some early success on season 4 of the Fox talent show American Idol in 2011.

"I got past six rounds the year Carrie Underwood won, but I always said with her voice and her legs I didn't have a chance to win," Mabe said.

Mabe also toured for several years with a metal band, Swift, garnering a large following. But the ebbs and flows of the money associated with the music business left Mabe searching for something more stable. He went back to finish his biochemistry education at UNCG, just around the time the JSNN was getting up and running.

"As of Oct. 15, I am a doctor and a CEO of a company. That sounds so weird to say that," he said, laughing. "I mean I still think of myself as a tattooed guy that plays guitar."

Add medical device developer to the resume.

A slide with slits about the size of the length of a human hair cut into 10,000 slices is used to collect a sample. And using tiny particles of DNA atop the slide, the protein attaches to the DNA and can be seen.

That’s what the patents are on, allowing 3i Nano to get rid off old, complex instrumentation, he said.

The National Science Foundation and a program called i-Corp funded the research and development, which Mabe and Wei built their company around.

“You kind of need to get some kind of niche market first and then broaden, so that’s what that program offered,” Mabe said.

Through conducting interviews with potential consumers – rather than developing a product from an idea and hoping it would sell – 3i Nano learned the needs of potential clients without wasting a ton of time, energy and funding.

“Going through that program is (where) we identified the troponin for heart attack,” he said. “Where there is a hole in the market, what we found, is in a pre-hospital setting.”

So instead of mass producing a product that already existed, they found away to shrink and make the same technology mobile – in a device that will likely save lives.

That is, after it completes further testing. The device is not in the mass production phase yet. First up is a small-business innovation research grant due on Dec. 4. That would give 3i Nano about $250,000 to investigate the viability of the device.

“We've got proof of concept. We've just formed the company. I've published papers to show that this works," Mabe said. "I've got a lot of people behind me."

The state and Gateway University Research Park have poured so much money into the JSNN, Mabe said, that they are eager to see his company and others be successful.

"I feel really lucky in the fact that I have so much support and encouragement."