Robert Mannino Wins First Place Prize of $100,000 for Smartphone App for Self-Management of Anemia

March 5, 2018 – CAF congratulates Robert Mannino, PhD student at Georgia Tech and Emory University, on winning first place in the competition for the 2017 Student Technology Prize for Primary Healthcare. This competition showcases student innovations in primary-care technology with the objective of providing opportunities for promising engineering students to develop their careers while also improving primary-care delivery.

Robert, who was diagnosed with beta thalassemia major at 6 months old, has received frequent blood transfusions throughout his entire life. By the age of 16, he knew that he wanted to focus his career on finding ways to improve the lives of people born with thalassemia. Robert began his pursuit of this career by enrolling in the biomedical engineering undergraduate program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where his academic excellence resulted in his selection as the recipient of the CAF-ApoPharma Distinguished Scholar Award. After receiving this honor in 2014, Robert explained, “Being in a hospital all the time growing up, and getting to know a lot of people with blood-related illnesses, I want to use my talents to help others. I have seen firsthand what medical innovation from diagnostics to therapy can do to improve the life of a patient. My ultimate goal is to use my degree and the skills I will attain in graduate school to become a biomedical engineer translating research into new diagnostics and therapies for blood diseases in an industry setting. I hope to focus on developing new tools to study hemoglobin diseases and to improve patient outcomes. It is an honor that the Foundation has chosen to help me to pursue my goal.”

Since then, Robert has soared in the field of biomedical engineering. He currently works in the lab of Wilbur Lam, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering and researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. Dr. Lam is researching improved ways to detect iron overload caused by frequent blood transfusions. As a researcher in Dr. Lam’s lab, Robert has been designing devices that can detect iron overload indicators. This research could have a phenomenal impact on early detection of iron overload, particularly in developing countries where children who receive frequent blood transfusions have an increased risk of organ failure resulting from iron overload.

Robert’s prize-winning project, entitled “Noninvasive Inexpensive Smartphone App for Patient Self-Management of Anemia,” uses smartphone photos of a patient’s fingernails for diagnosing anemia. The initial clinical assessment of the app is now complete, and the $100,000 prize money from this contest will support further development of Robert’s research, which is based on his PhD dissertation. In a recent interview with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Robert remarked, “being able to detect iron overload early is an exciting opportunity… I don’t know anyone else who’s doing this kind of research.”

CAF congratulates Robert on this exciting achievement, and we are so proud of all his work to improve the lives of individuals with thalassemia.

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