Leading lady

Houston inventor receives national recognition for leading innovation

Doris Taylor from the Texas Heart Institute has been named to the National Academy of Inventors.

A Houston inventor is being recognized for her leadership within cardiovascular regenerative medicine. Doris A. Taylor from the Texas Heart Institute has been named among the National Academy of Inventors' 54 academic inventors to the spring 2019 class of NAI Senior Members.

Taylor's work involves finding alternatives for the current practices for organ transplants, including the whole organ decellularization/recellularization technologies she developed in 2008.

"Dr. Taylor's work has revolutionized the field by making it possible to bioengineer scaffolds that effectively mimic natural organs," says Dr. Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute's vice president for research, in a news release. "The three U.S. patents she currently holds have spun off 28 international patents, stimulating the worldwide tissue engineering industry. Her current research team is refining these technologies and developing others, potentially revolutionizing the transplantation industry and eliminating wait lists for life-saving transplantable organs."

NAI selects its honorees by identifying their impact on the welfare of society, the release reads, and have proven success with their patents, licensing, and commercialization.

NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from its Member Institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have proven success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

An individual's nomination for the NAI Senior Member class by its supporting institution is a distinct honor and a significant way for the organization to publicly recognize its innovators on a national level.At their host institutions, Senior Members foster a spirit of innovation, while educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors.

The new class of NAI Senior Members includes representatives from 32 institutions. Texas A&M University has two researchers in the class — Robert Balog, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Balakrishna Haridas, a professor of practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and executive director for technology commercialization and entrepreneurship for the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.

This latest class of NAI Senior Members represents 32 research universities and government and non-profit research institutes. They are named inventors on over 860 issued U.S. patents. In February, two Houston inventors were named to the inaugural class of senior members.

"NAI Member Institutions support some of the most elite innovators on the horizon. With the NAI Senior Member award distinction, we are recognizing innovators that are rising stars in their fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, NAI president, in the release. "This new class is joining a prolific group of academic visionaries already defining tomorrow."

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This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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