Sci-fi moment sparked career ambition for Bell

Profile for Emphasis: Health Care & Biotech for The Memphis Daily News

Sept. 14, 2013

For many children coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, a viewing of the “Star Wars” trilogy led to afternoons of battling make-believe Stormtroopers with homemade light sabers in a backyard re-imagined as the Death Star.

For Charleson Bell, though, the films prompted a dream that would culminate in the chase for a Ph.D. and a way to make the world healthier and safer.

The 28-year-old Bell’s startup, BioNanovations Corp., is on the cutting edge of biotechnology with a product that he has said will cut the wait time for a diagnosis of staph infection from days to minutes.

Though the technology is proprietary and still under development, Bell said by phone from San Francisco where he was seeking investment capital that, “because we use nanotechnology, we are able to deploy it in a handheld device. That’s the whole idea, that now we have this handheld device that’s fully integrated that can run these rapid staph tests and other tests that we develop.”

One in three people carry staphylococcus aureus, the most common form of staphylococcus to cause the infection.

“Most of the staph comes from contact with other humans and it’s the No. 1 cause of serious infections today – skin infections, blood infections, surgical wound infections,” said Dr. Michael Gelfand, professor of medicine in infectious diseases at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “So it’s very, very common, very important, very expensive. It kills a lot of people, and is often resistant to the usual antibiotics requiring difficult to use antibiotics, and very expensive ones.”

When Bell began looking into what sort of medical problems might most benefit from a rapid test, staph immediately became the leading candidate due to its aggressive nature and the research at hand.

“Staph is a highly studied organism, so we were able to get better footing with our science because there was a wealth of literature,” Bell said.

The entrepreneur grew up moving from place to place along the eastern seaboard with a U.S. Marine father, though he claims as home Pawleys Island, S.C., just south of Myrtle Beach, and home to his mother’s family. Bell attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, S.C. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in the same area. He has a technology license agreement with the university . . . (read more)