While pursuing a Ph.D. in medical physiology from the University of Missouri, Brian Wamhoff ’96 began to realize something about the field of science that he never fully grasped before.
"When I got into science, it was for the passion of understanding what we don’t know—in other words, why things happen—very fundamental, hypothesis-driven research,” Wamhoff explains.
“But once you enter the rapidly-changing landscape of science, you have to learn that while you obviously have to have a passion for the science that you do, you also have to have funding for the research that you do.”
In order to succeed in today’s competitive medical research culture—where individual salaries are often dependent on grant funding—Wamhoff argues that scientists must have business-related skills.
“If you think you’ve found something, say, that could be used as a therapy, or a device, you really have to have an entrepreneurial mind,” Wamhoff says.
Since he’s been a researcher at the University of Virginia, Wamhoff has been instrumental in the development of two companies and published over 17 patents.
From 2003-2007, Wamhoff worked as Chief Scientist for a University of Virginia start-up Setagon, Inc., a company whose goal was to develop a novel coronary stent drug delivery platform to treat coronary heart disease. Setagon’s team of researchers developed that technology, and recently licensed it to Medtronic, the third largest stent producer in the world.
In 2008, Wamhoff co-founded Hemoshear, LLC with Dr. Brett Blackman, his colleague in Biomedical Engineering. They have developed a device that literally mimics the human artery outside of the human body. The technology is being used to test the efficacy of therapeutic compounds and aid in early vascular toxicity studies prior to clinical trials in humans; the device also reduces the use of animals in pre-clinical drug screening. HemoShear’s technology will save pharmaceutical companies significant time and money in screening potential new drug compounds as well as testing toxic effects of any compound that enters our drinking supply and the human circulation. They hope to get new drugs into patients that are safer and more efficacious.
Wamhoff credits his business and economics classes at Rhodes for his entrepreneurial success. In particular, he values his experiences in Professor Marshall McMahon’s classes, in which he learned about the fundamentals of supply and demand, and also those with Professor Dee Burnbaum, who taught him about the principles of business management.
“When you run a science lab,” Wamhoff explains, “it’s not just about doing experiments. You have to manage million dollar budgets off your grants. You have to manage a staff of scientists and collaborators. Because of my business classes at Rhodes, I was able to hit the ground running faster than some of my colleagues.”
Hit the ground running, he has indeed. This year he was awarded the American Heart Association’s prestigious Irvine H. Page Young Investigator Research Award out of 80 top cardiovascular researchers on the international level. He has published over 25 primary research articles in nationally-acclaimed journals, in addition to several book chapters, review articles and editorials. He is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and Pfizer.
His work extends past his research program, as he devotes time to the community by promoting health awareness as a member of the Board of Directors of the local affiliate of the American Heart Association.
An exemplary Rhodes alumnus, Wamhoff believes wholeheartedly in lifelong service and learning. But, ever humble, he will tell you that he’s just passing along the lessons he learned from Dr. Blundon and his other professors at Rhodes.
By: Bryan Hearn ’09