emory-wire

Mother Knows Best

The final story in our series on the 2018 Emory Entrepreneur Award winners features Nabiha Saklayen 12C, who tells EmoryWire about her work and her mission to show scientists that there are many careers paths.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

The final story in our series on the 2018 Emory Entrepreneur (EEN) Award winners features Nabiha Saklayen 12C, who tells EmoryWire about her work and her mission to show scientists that there are many careers paths.

Though she says she is an accidental entrepreneur, Nabiha Saklayen’s 12C mother knew better. “When you look back at my life trajectory, my mom always said, ‘I think you're preparing your own life to be a CEO,’” says Saklayen, CEO and co-founder of Cellino Biotech, which uses laser technology to modify stem cells for new, innovative cell therapies. Listing her formative experiences as varied as travel, scientific studies, and community service, she realized that her mom was exactly right. “All these things tie together and help me be a better entrepreneur,” says Saklayen.

Her company’s revolutionary technique uses laser-activated nanostructures to deliver gene therapies directly into cells. “When a laser is shined onto the nanostructures, the intense hot spots can open transient pores in nearby cells,” Saklayen told the digital magazine at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “These pores are open long enough for any cargo that is around in the surrounding liquid to diffuse into the cell, and then the pores seal,” she said. “It is sort of like a magical opening where we can deliver molecules into the cell without damaging it, in a very targeted, quick way.”

EmoryWire caught up with Saklayen at the ceremony honoring the 2018 EEN winners.


What does the EEN award mean to you?

I have love for everything Emory. Emory was my first home away from away from home when I moved from Sri Lanka as an Emory Scholar. So every time Emory calls, I’m here and am thrilled to be receiving this award. I feel like I have come whole circle because I’ve been away for my PhD at Harvard and now I’m back to share my story. It's phenomenal. 

How will your story start?

Emory has incredible biomedical researchers. There are a lot of opportunities for biotechs and ideas to be spun out of Emory through graduate students. I want to build that narrative and inspire other students to get involved.

Why is it important to inspire younger students?

I was a physics major, and I did my PhD in physics as well. I realized that scientists are traditionally only told about one classic track, which is to be a professor. And it’s amazing to be a professor, but unfortunately when you look at the world, there aren’t that many academic jobs. We didn’t have a connection to think about alternative careers—whether in industry or a nonprofit or entrepreneurship. It's important for society that we channel energetic, brilliant people in all of these directions.

You chose entrepreneurship. Why?

Entrepreneurship is a unique career pathway because it requires a collection of different skill sets that has to be nurtured from an early stage to be successful, which is why I want to talk to students about it. 

What will you tell them?

I traveled the world with my parents growing up. I was very, very interested in international relations and diplomacy. I was president of a model United Nations team when I was at Emory. As a physics major, I wrote papers, and I performed community service. All these things tie together and help me be a better entrepreneur. 

Why did you choose the last stanza of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost for the bottom of the Cellino website homepage?

I chose it because I'm very optimistic about the world. There are a lot of things that aren't perfect. I have tremendous hope that we can make the world a better place. I feel that every day. Even though day and night I'm working very hard. But at the end of the day, work is all about creating change—and fighting for what's right. That's what we're doing at Cellino. It's just the beginning, and we have a lot of work to do, but we're motivated. We're not afraid to take on difficult world challenges.

Want to learn more about Dr. Saklayen’s revolutionary work?

Revolutionizing Gene Editing with Bubbles

Push button, cure cancer

Laser activated gold pyramids could deliver drugs, DNA into cells without harm

Editor’s Note: We’ll be launching a series on the 2019 Emory Entrepreneur Award winners in the coming months. Take a look at this year’s winners and let me know who you might want to hear from first. And, if you’re in the Atlanta area on February 27, 2020, please join us at the awards event. Hear from the winners, network with the Emory community, and tour The Hatchery, the newest addition to Emory’s innovation spaces.