Luka Lamaj, a fourth-year biochemistry student at Brock, was part of an elite group of aspiring biotechnology leaders selected to participate in a prestigious undergraduate research program last summer.
Lamaj spent three months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, immersed in DojoHouse, a program run by Nucleate, a biotechnology nonprofit that welcomes eight ambitious undergraduate students from across North America each year.
Among the eight students accepted to DojoHouse, Lamaj was the only student from Canada with other participants coming from U.S.-based Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
“I think they appreciated my entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that I focus not only on biotechnology research, but also on future commercialization,” Lamaj said.
He discovered this opportunity after his company Docere Health won a Microsoft pitch competition as the best startup in North America. Lamaj created the platform two years ago to facilitate communication between doctors and patients. Since then, his business has grown, thanks in part to support he receives from Brock LINCand the platform now also uses artificial intelligence to facilitate administrative work in medical clinics, such as intake forms and referral and prescription processes.
At DojoHouse, Lamaj and others have focused their research on one of three topics: speeding cancer recovery, preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, or using computer models to predict the organization of human chromatin. Lamaj chose the first option and spent several hours a day conducting a literature review on genomic medicine.
To complete his research, Lamaj was paired with two mentors, a professor of genetics and oncology from the University of Cambridge and a professor of oncology from Harvard Medical School, with whom he communicated once a week.
He and other students also visited million-dollar company offices, biotech startups and university research labs that once housed Nobel laureates.
Each weekend, a biotechnology leader, scientist or investor would visit the house to share their knowledge with the students, which Lamaj said was one of the most valuable aspects of participating in the program.
While many students completed internships in university research labs or biotech startups through the DojoHouse program, Lamaj dedicated time to networking with industry leaders and growing his business.
“It’s amazing how many doors the Nucleate name can open,” he said. “I found investors for my company by talking to people about Nucleate initiatives.”
At the end of the program, students presented their research results to a group of biotechnology leaders, venture capitalists, academics, scientists, hospital administrators and industry professionals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Although DojoHouse ended in August, Lamaj and other students are continuing the spirit of research and innovation gained through the program by collaborating with their Cambridge University mentor and an MIT scientist to co-author a book on genomic medicine. A chapter of the book will be dedicated specifically to oncology and is expected to contain much of Lamaj’s research findings.
The student entrepreneur will also apply his research to continue the growth of Docere Health. He hopes to train the platform’s artificial intelligence to become a clinical decision support tool for oncologists and cancer researchers as well as neurologists and psychiatrists.
Lamaj is grateful for his summer research experience and has chosen to continue his connection with Nucleate by accepting a 12-month contract as director of the Nucleate Dojo. Over the next year, he will balance expanding Nucleate’s undergraduate programs with co-writing the book, growing his business, and completing his fourth year of biochemistry studies at Brock.
“It will be a whirlwind of activity, but as an immigrant, I have learned that the path to success requires unwavering courage and determination,” Lamaj said. “I don’t just aspire to survive; My goal is to thrive, and in doing so, I hope to inspire others to pursue their dreams with the same fiery passion that fuels my every step.