Trivia Frazier: Research Scientist & Business Innovator

Trivia Frazier (SSE ’08, M ’12, B ’18), president and CEO of Obatala Sciences, is passionate about her company’s work and is thrilled to be blazing a path for others interested in bioengineering research.

Trivia Frazier stands in her science lab in a blue dress
Photo by Rusty Costanza


Obatala’s “fat on a chip” technology offers research scientists tissue models that represent patients of varying demographics. The availability of diverse samples allows for a far earlier indication of response to drug compounds from a much wider patient population. Eliminating nonviable compounds quickly not only speeds up the testing time, which could result in less expensive prescription drugs, but also reduces adverse patient events.

Obatala Sciences is named for the West African god who was tasked with sculpting the human body. The significance of this name is two-fold for Frazier, who is a native New Orleanian and of Nigerian ancestry. 

“Obatala [the mythic god] used naturally occurring materials, clay and mud, to form the human body, and we’re using naturally occurring biological materials. We start off with what’s routinely discarded as medical waste and then use those tissues to build more tissues that mimic tissues of the body. It seemed naturally fitting, considering that our goal is promoting diversity in research, to name the company after this West African deity.”

“Obatala [the mythic god] used naturally occurring materials, clay and mud, to form the human body, and we’re using naturally occurring biological materials.”

Trivia Frazier


Frazier was the first African American woman to complete the dual degree program in Physics and Biomedical Engineering from Tulane and Dillard Universities, and this experience was fundamental to her future in medical research. 

While a graduate student in Tulane’s School of Medicine PhD program in Biomedical Sciences, Frazier met Dr. Jeffrey Gimble, a faculty member who shared her research interests. After she completed her doctorate, Gimble offered Frazier the opportunity to work with him on a National Science Foundation–funded project.

“This project isolating stem cells from fat tissue and reconstituting them in a three-dimensional environment using silk led to the founding of Obatala. We were engineering fat tissue using stem cells; it was a way to take the original small volume of tissue and expand it,” said Frazier.

Frazier took a turn in her career to join Dillard University’s faculty as chair of the physics program but continued collaborating with Gimble and another scientist who became a co-founder of Obatala, Dr. Xiying Wu. 

In 2016 the three were awarded a small business, innovative research grant that allowed them to commercialize the technology and offer it to pharmaceutical companies for testing drug compounds. Frazier then gave up her academic position to focus on Obatala. She also enrolled in the MBA program at Tulane’s A. B. Freeman School of Business to acquire the skills necessary to run a successful startup.  

Obatala is now a thriving company, with a team of 13, that distributes its samples internationally and is contributing to the budding New Orleans biotech industry. For Frazier, the company’s location is significant. 

“It’s important for me to create opportunity for others in my hometown because I remember thinking, do I have to move to get this kind of experience? I wanted to be home for many reasons, one to be close to my mother, and if it were not for the opportunities I was given, I may not have pursued this pathway.”