The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Xu Receives CAREER Award to Develop Devices for Next-generation Precision Therapeutics

Guangyu Xu

Guangyu Xu

Guangyu Xu, the Dev and Linda Gupta Endowed Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, has received a $500,000 award from the prestigious National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. As Xu says, “This research project aims to establish two lab-on-a-chip technologies that will ultimately lead to enabling tools in next-generation precision therapeutics.”

Xu’s NSF research will result in new engineering tools and disease-related assays that will likely make an impact on drug-therapy screening, immunotherapeutic development, and point-of-care systems. The title of his CAREER proposal is “Scalable, high-precision optoelectronic lab-on-a-chip towards next-generation precision therapeutics.”

As Xu explains the background of his NSF research, “Precision therapeutics is an emerging field that stratifies patient groups based on molecular and cellular levels of data, followed by individualized treatment for better health outcome. As a result, this approach has been increasingly demanded in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of various medical conditions.”

Xu says that one potential enabling tool in precision therapeutics is a biomedical device that can acquire cellular/molecular information specific to targeted patient groups. To achieve this specificity, such devices should ideally be built in a scalable array form, whose number of functional pixels can be scaled up to collect high-content data. The resulting arrays can be used to probe cellular disease models or monitor the dynamics of multiple biomarkers simultaneously.

Such enabling devices are the targets of Xu’s CAREER research, which can ultimately be integrated to drug screening and bedside testing systems to advance drug therapies and point-of-care solutions.

“Motivated by these goals,” says Xu, “this project aims to establish two chip-scale optoelectronic devices for high-precision cell interfacing and biosensing applications, with their precision being evaluated in cultured neuronal networks and blood samples, respectively”.

“The proposed work will open ample research opportunities in drug screening for neurological diseases and point-of-care testing for patients with acute immune symptoms,” as Xu explains.

Xu believes that his NSF work will make several major contributions to the future of precision medicine.

The first contribution is a multi-modal array capable of precise optoelectronic interrogation of neural activity. The second is a multiplexed biosensor capable of rapid detection of biomarkers that are related to immune responses. And the third contribution is drug-screening and immune-response monitoring assays using these two devices, which will shed light on therapeutics development towards neurological and autoimmune diseases.

As Xu explains about the research carried on at the Integrated Nanobiotechnology Laboratory that he runs in the ECE department, “Here we build multi-functional molecule-detection and cell-imaging tools, aiming to offer new capabilities for important biomedical applications. With an affinity for diverse areas in nanodevice, bioelectronics, and synthetic biology, we enjoy the bandwidth our work spans and the problem-oriented way of thinking.” (March 2021)