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Three Natural Sciences Professors Win UT Invent & Innovate Awards

Three Natural Sciences Professors Win UT Invent & Innovate Awards

Eric Anslyn, Edward Marcotte and George Georgiou were honored at an event this month honoring the top innovations and inventions of the year to come out of The University of Texas at Austin.

Invention of the Year

Anslyn, who holds the Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry, and Marcotte, who holds the Mr. and Mrs. Corbin J. Robertson, Sr. Regents Chair in Molecular Biology, shared the "invention of the year" award for their innovation that allows for rapid sequencing of proteins. 

Cancer, Alzheimer's, heart failure, diabetes and many other disorders are associated with unique proteins that can act as biomarkers, giving away the presence of disease. Detecting these proteins will help researchers diagnose diseases earlier and even understand the causes. But the current laboratory standard for sequencing proteins, mass spectrometry, can detect a protein only if there are about a million copies of it. It also has a low "throughput," because only a few experiments can be conducted at a time compared with the many thousands possible with techniques such as gene sequencing.

Next-generation gene sequencing has made analyzing the entire genome of any organism fast, accurate and affordable. More than six years ago, molecular biosciences professor Marcotte began wondering whether DNA-sequencing-like technology could be used to study proteins. Because the method involves attaching chemical tags to the proteins being analyzed, Marcotte recruited Anslyn, an organic chemist. The researchers used supercomputer clusters at UT's Texas Advanced Computing Center.

With this new method, "single-molecule fluorosequencing," researchers can sequence millions of protein molecules simultaneously in a single sample. Marcotte believes future refinements could boost the number into the billions and allow researchers to search cell by cell to understand how a tumor evolves from a small mass of identical cells to a soup of genetically divergent cells, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Along with Jagannath Swaminathan, Marcotte and Anslyn share a patent with UT Austin on the underlying technology. And with Talli Somekh, Angela Bardo and Zack Simpson, the team has founded Erisyon Inc. to commercialize the technology. 

Startup of the Year

George Georgiou, a professor of molecular biosciences who is jointly appointed in chemical engineering where he holds the Dula D. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering, won Startup of the Year for his company, Kyn Therapeutics.

Tumors cause a number of structural and chemical changes in the surrounding cells and tissues, referred to as the "tumor micro-environment," and these changes promote tumor survival. Georgiou founded Kyn Therapeutics Inc. in 2016 to reverse these changes and allow immune cells to reach the tumor.

In 2019, Kyn Therapeutics, based in Boston, entered into a global strategic collaboration with Celgene to develop novel immuno-oncology therapies. Georgiou is co-inventor of more than 120 issued and pending U.S. patents licensed to 29 pharmaceutical and biotech companies. He has been named one of the top 100 chemical engineers of the modern era by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and in 2013 he was selected as one of the top 20 translational researchers by Nature Biotechnology. He was previously named UT Austin Inventor of the Year.

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Friday, 27 January 2023

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