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From UG Research to Developing Cancer Treatments – Alum Eric Nummedal puts his UO Experience to Work

Photos of Eric Nummedal in the laboratory

Eric Nummedal, BS ’16, now works as a researcher for Aivita Biomedical.

Biochemistry alum Eric Nummedal credits his years at the University of Oregon for preparing him so well for his current role researching and manufacturing cancer immunotherapies that he recently reached out to the Chemistry and Biochemistry department, hoping that by sharing his experience he might pass on some of his enthusiasm for his work and encourage current undergraduate students as they prepare for a career in the sciences.

Eric grew up in Irvine, California, and when considering where to pursue his undergraduate studies, he was drawn to the UO for what he saw as its commitment to progress.

“I found the resources necessary to create great change,” he explains, “but most importantly, an infectious enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge.”

Once here at the university, Eric did not hesitate to take advantage of those resources and make the most of his undergraduate years, participating in the Science Literacy Program, the Oregon Undergraduate Research Journal, the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society, and the College Scholars Program. His academic efforts earned him several awards, among them a McNair Scholarship – a federal program that supports students as they earn their undergraduate degrees and complete research projects in their fields of study.  For his undergraduate research, Eric chose a project with a focus on the visual system.  He worked with the Niell Lab in the Institute of Neuroscience, and presented his findings at the 2014 McNair Scholars Symposium. Eric graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Biology.

“These achievements would not have been possible without the tireless support of professors, peers, and graduate teaching assistants,” says Eric.  “In particular, I credit Dr. Bruce Branchaud, Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Cris Niell, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, and Dr. Gail Unruh, former Director for the UO McNair Scholars Program, for the profound impact they had on both my academic and personal life. I will always be grateful for their generous guidance.”

After graduating, Eric worked at two biotech start-ups before transitioning to his current role as a Research, Development, and Manufacturing Associate at Aivita Biomedical, a regenerative medicine company. The company’s central focus is developing immunotherapies that will enable the immune system to eliminate cancer.

“In general,” Eric explains, “we train immune cells to recognize and attack tumor cells – using many of the same techniques that I learned as an undergrad.”

Photo: Cancerous glial astrocytes (neural cells from glioblastoma)

Cancerous glial astrocytes (neural cells from glioblastoma) being grown in the lab in order to train the immune system to recognize and eliminate them.

In addition to cancer research, they are also working to develop stem cell-derived 3D-transplantable retinas to treat vision loss.

Eric’s favorite aspect of his current work is the opportunity to participate in the creation of life-changing immunotherapies for cancer patients in desperate need of hope.

“I am inspired by the twenty-six percent decline in death rate attributed to cancer since 1991, equivalent to 2.4 million lives saved,” he shares, “and I am proud to be a part of a global collaboration of scientists trying to make the world a healthier place to live.”

Eric is thankful for the encouragement and support he received along the way, from friends and family as well as professional colleagues – and he’s hoping to have the opportunity to pass that forward.

Current students and alumni are welcome to reach out to Eric via LinkedIn if they have questions or would like to know more about his experiences as a UO undergrad or working in the sciences. 

By Leah O’Brien
Photos courtesy of Aivita Biomedical

 

 

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