Mauka Manuwai joined the Micronoma team in July 2022 as a Research Associate II. Originally from Medford, Oregon, he decided to trade the evergreen trees for the salty waves and sandy beaches of San Diego in 2021. In Hawaiian, his name Mauka means: Towards the Mountain. He is responsible for assisting senior scientists in the study of microbiome biomarkers linked to tumor tissue.

Mauka spoke with us to provide some insight into his work and path to Micronoma.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I spend the majority of my time working on the Oncobiotatm assay, assisting Serena and the R&D team extracting cell-free DNA from plasma samples and preparing libraries for sequencing. I also help with lab maintenance as well as vendor collaborations that help us process samples efficiently.

Tell us about your educational background and previous work.

I graduated from Boise State University with a B.S. in Biology (Cellular, Molecular and BioMedical emphasis) where I had opportunities to constantly grow.  I worked for a primary care and wellness clinic, Wonder Medicine in Boise, and for the Office of Clinical Continuing Education at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise where I worked alongside lab scientists and physicians. This gave me the chance to flourish in clinic, hospital, and research/clinical lab settings. I then moved to San Diego to work at Sequenom as a clinical lab technician, working on RNA and DNA extractions for COVID samples and plasma samples from NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing). What I enjoy most is creating a high-quality environment for all to thrive in. That’s why I am beyond fortunate to work for a company aiming to improve the lives of thousands through early-stage cancer detection. 

What led you to working at Micronoma?

When I was at Sequenom for a while, I knew that I wanted to find my way back to the research lab. I was searching for a job that intertwined my goals and values professionally and emotionally. I was very thankful to have had a chance to talk with Eddie, Micronoma’s CSO, and hear more about Micronoma. After that, I was sold.

How has cancer personally impacted you?

A little under a year ago, my mother, the woman who inspired me to be driven, stimulated and passionate about anything and everything I set my mind to, was diagnosed with uterine and colon cancers. Thanks to annual screenings, both cancers were discovered in earlier stages before they were able to aggressively spread. Surgery removed the cancerous parts and was followed up with internal radiation that allowed her a second chance in life.

What’s your favorite part about working at Micronoma?

Being the only cancer diagnostic company utilizing the microbiome in cancer detection represents a seeding of opportunity for the scope of cancer research to blossom.

My personal experience with my mom’s cancer not only taught me, but showed me the importance of early detections in cancer. It makes working in cancer research even more fulfilling and has propelled me to dive even deeper into the cause. It is enlightening to be surrounded by a community sharing the same goals and aspirations, where each and every day my coworkers and I get to exchange intellect, passions, and objectives.

What gets you most excited about the company’s future?

I am definitely most excited to see our LDT technology in action and see it start causing ripples in the diagnostics field. It has a bright future and I am very confident it will turn heads and save lives!

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

I am hopeful that my work in the lab will allow our patent-pending method to prove advantageous and captivate individuals who are driven and passionate about revolutionizing the way we tackle early-stage cancer detection.

What are your hidden talents or hobbies? Being born and raised in Oregon, I grew up with a love and appreciation for nature and the outdoors: I can climb a tree weirdly fast! I also have a love for the ukulele. My brothers and I have been playing for years and it is a way to indulge in my Hawaiian culture.

Anything else you would like to share?

My brothers and I were given unique names that in Hawaiian mean:

Mauka: Towards the Mountain

Makai (older brother): Towards the ocean

Makani (younger brother): Wind