Nathan Lian, Engineering Better Medical Treatments

Engineering, the sciences, and the humanities are all part of a grand continuum of knowledge in the eyes of Egleston Scholar Nathan Lian, and no school was better suited for pursuing his expansive interests than Columbia Engineering.

“Humanistic studies to understand the human experience are the ideal foundation for exploring the world and expanding the limits of our understanding,” Lian says. “At Columbia, I’ve found a community that celebrates both depth and breadth of human knowledge.”

As a high school student in San Diego, Lian conducted research in Parkinson’s disease and related neurological disorders at the San Diego Computer Center, where he worked on identifying gene targets for drug development and personalized therapies. He led a project designing personalized treatment for Parkinson’s patients in developing countries and co-authored a pending paper in Nature Communications. He also collaborated with cancer researchers to model a transcription factor involved in glioblastoma pathways and co-authored a paper in the journal Oncotarget, in addition to presenting his work at several conferences and mentoring other students. Beyond his scientific work, he has volunteered extensively, including helping launch programs to mentor the next generation of leaders and innovators, and he founded a policy magazine for young people in Southern California.

Lian had long dreamed of becoming a physician-scientist, but his father’s diagnosis with stage IV thymoma reinforced his determination to help engineer better treatments for patients. He hopes to harness the possibilities of big data for improving people’s health.

“Biomedical engineering and medical research are about more than simply translating scientific advances into clinical outcomes, but the provision of hope to families affected by debilitating diseases,” he says.

In addition to his classes at Columbia, Lian is an undergraduate researcher in Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic’s Laboratory for Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering and is working with a graduate student on a targeted drug-delivery system to alleviate the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. He also has joined a variety of student organizations, including the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE) and The Journal of Global Health. In his free time, he plays guitar, explores New York City, and samples the endless variety of food across the five boroughs.

“I want to go into engineering because it is fundamentally unpredictable,” Lian says. “It’s a lifetime of flirting with what can and cannot be done, of adapting to the dynamic nature of society and the natural world, and of learning and contributing to the betterment of humankind.”

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