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Budding entrepreneur and Biology major hopes to ease others’ pain

August 13, 2019
Ben Nkapbela stands in lab with research advisor, Dr. Brian Gray.

Anyone who has suffered the pain of migraine headaches or the debilitating effects of seizures knows how devastating these can be.

Migraine pain can force sufferers to miss work, important family events, and time with friends.

Seizures can deprive someone of a driver’s license.

“I’ve seen people suffering and seen standard treatments fail to help,” says York College senior Ben Nkapbela. “Some treatments are so addictive, they cause more problems than they solve.”

Inspired course of study

Ben came to York College with the goal of becoming an inventor.

“I didn’t know what kind of inventor,” Ben says today. “I wanted to study medicine and have now decided to become a bio-medical inventor to discover or invent drugs to help people.”

Lofty goals, but ones he says his York College professors and advisers helped him realize he can achieve, and the school’s facilities are getting him started on that path.

“As a Biology major, specifically studying molecular biology, I get to look at things from a very tiny, cellular level,” Ben says. “I also have a background working on ecosystems and organisms, which lets me see things from a different perspective, so I see how little things can affect big things.”

Mentors believed in him

Ben says two York College faculty members believed in him from the start.

“I was always interested in drug research at York College. In one of my first chem classes, I asked Dr. Jessica Fautch about how to carry out various extractions to find compounds for medicine,” Ben remembers.

“She took me seriously, didn’t put me off. She told me how this type of reaction would work,” he says. “Dr. Fautch believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She said I was capable of doing this if I put in the time.”

Dr. Brian Gray has served as Ben’s adviser, always with an open door and a good idea.

“He suggested the cell line I’m using in my current research. I didn’t understand why at the time, but it turned out to help with the research,” Ben says. “Dr. Gray’s foresight and industry experience helped me understand what I would face as a business owner.”

J.D. Brown Center helps launch company

This support and advice, as well as access to York College’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, helped Ben launch his own company.

While still an undergrad, he started Fiction Formulations and Services with two colleagues from the University of Maryland, as well as with fellow York College student, Alberto Pujol ’21.

He uses office space the Center provides and a lab in York College’s Biology department.

“The Center is giving me opportunities to meet people in the community and get my company’s name and brand out there,” Ben says.

Research underway

The opportunity the J.D. Brown Center affords has launched Ben’s medical research on ways to test different drugs for treating migraines and seizures.

“I’m targeting different biological systems to tackle disease through a multi-pathway approach. I’m using multiple compounds and learning how they work together,” Ben says.

He notes his research is on a cell-based platform, using clumps of cells, not people or animals, for testing.

“If I understand what causes migraines and seizures, I can replicate this in cells, then test various compounds to see how they affect the disease in these cells. This is safer and faster than testing on people,” he says.

With the federal government last year legalizing hemp, Ben is also studying how to use this crop in two ways, either as a medicinal plant or an industrial one, for fibers and textiles.

Geared to help

Ben is looking for funding now to set up his own lab and build on the extraordinary opportunity provided by York College, his supportive professors, and the J.D. Brown Center.

His goal remains what it was when he became a Spartan.

“Just to help people,” he says. “The best way I can do that is by inventing things they can use.”

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