“Having a blood transfusion every three weeks is all I’ve ever known,” said
Robert Mannino, a recent graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who’s now pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.
Robert has a rare disorder called beta thalassemia major, a condition in which his body has a problem producing the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout his body. He was diagnosed when he was 6 months old and received life-saving blood transfusions at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta throughout his childhood.
“At the age of 16, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. When I saw all those who were affected, and especially when I thought about my little brother, who also has thalassemia, I made a commitment to look for ways to overcome these disorders,” Robert said.
More Than Medical Advice
When Robert was considering the directions his career could take, he talked to his friends at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Center of Children’s. He asked
Jeanne Boudreaux, M.D., his doctor of several years, where he could apply his talents, and she directed him to Wilbur Lam, M.D., Ph.D, who specializes in hematology and oncology.
Robert now conducts research that could have an impact on a global scale in Dr. Lam’s lab. In many developing countries, children are at higher risk for transfusion-related complications. Working in collaboration with Children’s, Emory and Georgia Tech,
Dr. Lam’s team is researching better ways to detect iron overload from transfusions that can lead to organ failure. Robert is applying his knowledge in biomedical engineering by designing devices that can pick up on markers of iron overload.
“Being able to detect iron overload early is an exciting opportunity,” Robert said. “I don’t know anyone else who’s doing this kind of research.”
Making His Peers Proud
The Children’s staff is proud to have Robert as a peer. “The nurses and doctors have encouraged me throughout my treatments,” Robert continued. “And now, they’re encouraging me in my efforts to save lives.”