Two University of Tennessee graduates are shaking up scientific research and manufacturing at a cellular level – literally.
Graham Taylor and Nima Tamaddoni are the founders of T&T Scientific, a company that makes tools and devices to help scientists and researchers more effectively and efficiently develop and utilize nanoparticles, known as liposomes. A liposome is a vesicle (or bubble) made out of the same building blocks as a cell membrane. In other words, they’re similar to cells, but they are hollow inside with only the outer shell remaining. They are a cornerstone of the nanomedicine and nanotherapeutic industries, used to deliver drugs and gene therapies in the body. T&T specializes in technology that makes working with and producing liposomes more efficient, cleaner, effective, and cheaper.
Graham and Nima met in Knoxville as UT doctoral students in biomedical and mechanical engineering, respectively. They became fast friends and research teammates and soon began working together to solve problems in the lab. Frustrated with the lab tools available for producing batches of liposomes, Graham and Nima set out to develop a solution. The traditional lab tools were inefficient, requiring 40 minutes of cleaning and setup procedure, and contamination was common despite frequent extensive washing. To address these problems and save valuable research time, they designed a new NanoSizerTM Mini-extruder for liposome preparation, which not only improved the process but enlightened them on the potential of liposome preparation work.
“Think about chemotherapy. Current chemo agents are extremely harmful to the human body, because they’re toxic. It’s akin to poison,” explained Nima. “But with the ability to tailor the design and architecture of liposomes that encapsulate and hold the chemo agent, drugs can be delivered more directly to the cancerous tumor, causing less damage to healthy tissues.”
The potential applications for this targeted delivery reach much farther than just pharmaceuticals and cell delivery. Cosmetics, the food and beverage industry, the agriculture industry, and energy technology such as biobatteries all utilize or manufacture nanoparticles.
The pair’s complimentary experiences and interests make them ideal business partners. Nima, fascinated by business and entrepreneurship for as long as he can remember, grew up in a family of engineers. While he completed his undergraduate degree and pursued his PhD in mechanical engineering, he remained intrigued by the lure of the business world.
Graham, on the other hand, was born and raised in Chattanooga and grew up rooting for the Volunteers. When he first came to UT’s campus as an undergrad, he chose biomedical engineering as his major with the intent of attending medical school. Once introduced to the lab, however, he was hooked. Before working with Nima on developing the new NanoSizerTM Mini-extruder, Graham and his advisor, Assistant Professor Andy Sarles, invented and designed a new approach to measuring numerous cell membrane properties, including surface tension and membrane thickness with nanometer resolution, in an easy and quick single-step process. UTRF guided Graham and Andy through the invention disclosure and patenting processes to protect the invention.
Graham and Nima credit their previous experience and UTRF’s support in equipping them with the tools and connections to turn their business dreams into reality. “UTRF really plugged us into the entrepreneurial and business community in Knoxville,” said Graham. The pair launched T&T Scientific in 2015 as they sat at Nima’s kitchen table, planning to market their new miniextruder. They then joined UTRF’s Tennessee Venture Challenge pitch competition, which puts startups through a high-intensity six-week course on starting a business, training young entrepreneurs on marketing, finances, and business development, and connecting them with experienced experts for advice and networking.
“Graham and Nima excelled in the pitch competition and continue to carry their professionalism and dedication to research into the work of T&T Scientific,” comments UTRF Licensing Associate Andreana Leskovjan. “T&T Scientific is a great asset for Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and UTRF is proud to partner with them to commercialize UT’s innovation.”
UTRF helped the partners license the patent pending cell membrane measurement system, invented by Graham and his advisor Andy, so that T&T Scientific could begin to develop and market the system globally. Today, T&T Scientific has moved from Nima’s kitchen table to a large facility in North Knoxville, where they are working with academics and industries in over 45 countries.