‘Between the lab coats and the suit coats’

Northern State University alum Dr. Michael Dixon is in the business of getting research and technological discoveries from the lab to the marketplace, where they have major benefits to public health.

Dixon is president and CEO of UNeMed Corp., which works with faculty, students and staff of the University of Nebraska Medical Center to help commercialize innovative ideas.

“One way we describe ourselves is: we’re the people between the lab coats and the suit coats,” said Dixon, who was in Aberdeen this fall as a keynote speaker for the Create ‘N’ Festival.

When faculty, students or staff come up with a new discovery, it’s UNeMed Corp.’s job to protect it, Dixon said. That includes filing patents and working with companies to develop that technology into a product.

Dixon works with a wide variety of products, including medical devices, therapeutics and software. Instead of getting specialized in one area, as is often the case with science, Dixon gets to be more of a generalist.

“I like the variety of that,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to play in a lot of different sandboxes and have a chance to talk and work with people who are doing amazing things and really changing the way medicine is deployed.”

He said the philosophy of the University of Nebraska’s chancellor is: Until your discovery helps people, you haven’t completed your mission. UNeMed’s mission is about more than creating knowledge – it’s about translating that knowledge into something that helps people.

“Whether that’s a product, procedure, a process – something that makes people’s lives better,” Dixon said.

Products Impact Global Health

Dixon has been involved with numerous products that have made people’s lives better. One product, an anti-malarial drug, had a huge impact on global health. UNeMed partnered with a nonprofit to develop the product. A second generation is getting close to approval that could, in combination with another drug, be considered the “holy grail for malaria,” since the current regimen is a challenge for people in remote areas.

“Having something that could be a one- or two-dose cure could be a game-changer,” he said.

Another product that has had widespread health benefits is the LeVeen Needle Electrode, which uses radiofrequency ablation to burn – or ablate – a solid tumor from the inside. It was the first time physicians were able to treat solid tumors in a minimally invasive manner. This product opened up a whole new field in health care treatment, Dixon said, where other tools have since been created that are better and faster.

“It’s allowed more options for people with solid tumors to have them treated minimally invasively or to have them treated in combination with other drugs to make them more effective,” he said.

Returning to Campus

Dixon said he was honored to speak alongside the other keynotes at Create ‘N’: A Festival Celebrating Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Innovation and Workforce, held Sept. 19 at NSU. He was also happy for the opportunity to come back and visit Northern.

“I was really excited to get back to campus, just to see it all again,” Dixon said.

Growing up, he was familiar with NSU since his parents, Ivan and Elizabeth (Strutz) Dixon, are both alums. He chose Northern because he received the Presidential Scholarship and because he felt comfortable on a smaller campus where he could really interact with professors.

At NSU, Dixon ran track, served as president of Jerde Hall, and participated in Student Senate. The Presho native was a double major in biology and chemistry, graduating in 1998.

He also conducted research with his advisor and mentor, Dr. Lenore Koczon, a professor in organic chemistry, which helped give him the confidence to go into a research facility for his career. Dixon said he also gained confidence from social interaction at Northern, a small campus that was like a community.

“It had a big, family feel to it,” he said. “You got to know everyone.”

Take Advantage of Opportunities

His advice to current students: take advantage of the opportunities you have at NSU.

“You’re focused on your studies,” he said, “but there are so many things outside of that available, that if you’re able to take advantage of them, it can open up so many more doors.”

For Dixon, his time at NSU opened the door to a career he loves –and where he can make a difference. In science, if your idea works 5 percent of the time, you’re a genius, Dixon said. At UNeMed, he gets to work exclusively with that 5 percent.

“I only work with the greatest thing going on in each lab,” he said. “It’s like a lot of candy all the time.”