Trainee Profile: Tomi Nano, PhD Candidate

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For Tomi Nano, PhD Candidate, the people working at Robarts Research Institute provide daily inspiration. From scientific discoveries to educational contributions, the researchers and individuals behind the Institute’s success work hard to impact human health and train the next generation.

“The people here love what they do and that energy is infectious,” he explained. “I find their work ethic, ambition and tenacity very motivational.”

Nano is supervised by Robarts scientist Ian Cunningham, PhD, and is completing his doctoral degree with the Department of Medical Biophysics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

It was his first visit to Western University that sparked an interest in pursuing graduate school in London, and he realized his interests were a good fit with the x-ray imaging research in Cunningham’s lab.

The trainee is currently looking at improving x-ray technology to better detect and diagnose diseases at an earlier stage. He is developing a novel x-ray detector design that will be able to acquire better images to increase sensitivity and specificity for disease detection. This research combines advances in technology and engineering with new imaging techniques he is developing to improve patient outcomes and save lives.

This work helps with the detection of breast cancer in current screening and diagnostic procedures, such as mammography and tomosynthesis. The Cunningham lab is working with collaborators and industry partners, aiming to get this technology to clinics in the near future.

With research experience in this field, Nano and three other graduate students at Western recently joined together to create a cross-disciplinary team called ePalp – winning this year’s Proteus Innovation Competition with a commercialization strategy for a hand-held breast scanner.

“As a grad student in science, it was extremely rewarding to win a business competition,” he said. “I made valuable connections and learned a lot. I was part of an amazing team – the competition is now over but we continue to work together on commercialization opportunities.”

Nano is also actively involved with student life on campus. He is the Chair of the Schulich Graduate Student Council and a representative for the Robarts Association of Trainees.

“There are many graduate trainees at Western who give back to the community,” he explained. “I enjoy working with my colleagues at outreach events that better society, and I think it’s important to provide professional development opportunities that benefit students.”

Nano is on the path to becoming a clinical medical physicist, and anticipates two more years of PhD studies, as well as a CAMPEP-accredited residency program. He is also passionate about commercialization and entrepreneurship. With many possibilities on the horizon, he wants to stay connected to Robarts and its industry partners.

“Innovation is always on people’s minds at Robarts,” he said. “We’re always thinking of ways to get a new device to industry for better patient outcomes. That’s something I’d like to continue to be a part of.”

Nano believes in thinking big and preparing for next steps by planning ahead. He says he tries to look beyond the lab and his day-to-day routine to make a positive impact at Western, while also appreciating the current phase of his own research.

“There’s a social aspect to science,” he explained. “Science is done by people. Working hard independently is important for my productivity, but sharing ideas with others and proactively stepping outside my comfort zone has opened doors for new collaborations.”