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Innovation competition winner creates better way to test drug

Published July 17, 2013

The first thing you notice about Erin Nyren-Erickson is her sassy red hair. Then how animated she is as she talks about liposomes and the ups and downs of conducting research.

She is a doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences, and she’s already had one of those aha moments. Hers hit on a Saturday morning. Sept. 26, 2012, to be precise.

Nyren-Erickson had been working on a better way to test the blood-thinning drug heparin for contaminants. She walked into the lab that Saturday morning thinking about something Professor Sanku Mallik said about the best screening tests providing a clear positive or negative result.

From literature in the field, she knew traditional tests relied on chemical structure to identify contaminants. The problem was certain contaminants looked like heparin structurally, leading to false negatives. Another type of test was more accurate but also was expensive and time consuming.

How could she create a simple, accurate, inexpensive test? She had a theory she wanted to try out. She started mixing stuff. Her idea was on target.

She saw changes occurring in the vials of clear bright pink liquid. In the vial that contained the compound found in contaminated heparin, bright pink clumps formed and sunk to the bottom. The liquid in the vial of pure heparin turned turbid, showing significantly less change.

The bright pink clumps sparked two years of research that ultimately led to a new, more quantitative, more cost-effective test that will prevent allergic reactions and save lives.

The test has a provisional patent and is now being marketed to drug companies. Nyren-Erickson also took top honors in Innovation Challenge ’13, NDSU’s second annual student innovation competition. She won her category and the best-in-show prize—a total of $10,000—for the test.

Mallik encouraged Nyren-Erickson to enter the competition. She needed that nudge and encourages students who have good ideas to go for it.

“A lot of people are held back by thinking their idea isn’t good enough,” she said.

“Go ahead and try it. Don’t discourage yourself. Just being part of it will help you make your project better.”

Some research discoveries are building blocks for other researchers. Nyren-Erickson is the kind of researcher who likes to develop an idea into a product.

Participating in the Innovation Challenge gave her the opportunity to talk with local entrepreneurs who presented on topics such as angel investors versus capital ventures, sales and marketing, and how to build a successful team. She also gained an understanding of the infrastructure needed to establish a business and the resources that are available.

Nyren-Erickson earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in 2003 and a Master of Business Administration in 2012. She will complete her doctorate in August.

Innovation Week ’14 is scheduled for March 3-7, 2014. Entries will be accepted this fall for Innovation Challenge  ’14.


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Last Updated: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:26:46 PM
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