PITTSBURGH DISTRICT OFFICE
Release Date: May 16, 2012
Release Number: PGH12-16
Contact: Janet Heyl (412) 395-6560, ext. 103
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Local scientist helping world science community unravel medical mysteries named SBA exporter of the year
|Dr. Richard Somiari|
“Our research may help to create a blood test that will lead to early detection of breast cancer as it sometimes can take 15 years for a lump to appear,” said Somiari. “The test will be of great service to women in rural areas as well as men – who can also contract breast cancer.”
Recently named SBA Region III and Western Pennsylvania Exporter of the Year, Somiari decided after one year as an intern to study applied science, subsequently completed a PhD in Biochemistry and started working as a scientist, then formed a research facility to share his biotechnology and genetic profiling expertise with the worldwide medical community.
Somiari will be lauded at the Western Pennsylvania SBA May 25th Awards Luncheon at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel Pittsburgh. The luncheon is held in conjunction with the 49th annual celebration of National Small Business Week. Like the other 68 district winners, his nomination was forwarded to their respective regional office – in this case Region 3, which spans Delaware, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia – where he became the regional winner.
The breast cancer screening effort is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). The grant is a rarity for the seven-year-old firm, which relies on exporting its technological services in order to succeed.
Growing up in Nigeria, Somiari spent time at hospitals with his widowed mother, a nurse and the family provider. Witnessing both joyous and sorrowful medical outcomes, he realized he wanted to join the medical research community. Recruited to the area in 2000 to launch the Windber Research Institute, Somiari believes the daily research and analysis his team conducts will help meet tomorrow’s medical needs.
“My main motivation in forming ITSI was to accelerate discovery and the validation of basic research results without going through many bureaucratic layers,” he said. “We offer analytical services on tissue samples, produce analytical testing kits and offer consulting services.”
Somiari, once a fellow at the University of Maryland School Of Medicine, began with virtually no clients in the United States. Instead, his testing kits have been sent to Nigeria and Europe, where he has research contacts.
“The Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission came to me about opportunities to export to Europe and beyond, as everyone wants to export to the United States,” he said. “In the bioscience world, everything that comes out of the U.S. is of the highest standard.”
His company, which utilized three SBA loans for equipment, working capital and construction, has at various times been awarded consulting contracts in South Africa and Nigeria. In Nigeria, ITSI was contracted to design, equip, train and support the Nigerian Defense Headquarters military DNA banking and analysis center. The reference DNA bank will allow identification of fallen military personnel and support biomedical research of national significance. Somiari also began creating analytical kits that ensure accuracy in the biomedical research field.
“This service started by accident as people want to do what we are doing, but in their own laboratory to validate their research. Because samples often arrived in different conditions due to packaging, pre-processing and temperature and this can make the results obtained different,” he explained. “We make kits that are standardized, contain the necessary and appropriate chemicals and even exact protocol on how to perform the analysis.”
ITSI also provides analytical services to help universities and drug manufacturers unlock the mysteries of cancer, often by analyzing proteins and DNA. “Every human being has a unique order of molecules that make up their DNA, and machines can determine the order of the ATCG molecules that make up DNA,” he said. “Certain diseases, like cancer, arise because of sequential errors in DNA.”
He added that the human body has molecules that act as a proofreader and altered sequences detected can be repaired. But problems arise when errors go unrepaired and multiple errors accumulate over time. “Our research effort is not used to treat patients today, but to gain more insight as today’s medical treatments are the results of studies performed 10-15 years ago.”
According to Somiari, ITSI finally is receiving attention from United States scientists who pore over scientific journals and find out that other scientists have used ITSI’s kits or services. “Scientists have to cite the source of any chemicals used and where they were purchased,” he said. “Therefore, scientists who want to do the same research will naturally purchase the same product, which often is our product.”
Western Pennsylvania SBA District Director Carl Knoblock said that Somiari’s research facility further cements the region as a medical research and technological hub. “He is performing research that will help universities and drug companies throughout the world gain insight into unlocking the mysteries of diseases that plague mankind,” he said. “He has exported his ideas and concepts to a great many countries and now U.S. scientists are taking note. I’m pleased to recognize him as SBA’s Exporter of the Year for Region 3 and Western Pennsylvania.”
Somiari said he was humbled and excited to capture both local and regional exporting honors. “I appreciate the recognition as it truly is an honor to help the medical field succeed.”
The U.S. Small Business Administration – helping small businesses start, grow and succeed. If you would like to speak with the Dr. Richard Somiari or Carl Knoblock, Western Pennsylvania SBA district director, please contact Janet Heyl at 412-395-6560, ext. 103