The Technology Entrepreneur Center in The Grainger College of Engineering is pleased to announce the campus-wide innovation award recipients for 2023. Janet Sorrells, a graduate Bioengineering student is the Illinois Innovation Award recipient for 2023. Sorrells received a monetary award of $20,000 from Grainger Engineering.
The Illinois Innovation Award honors University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students for excellence in cutting-edge innovation or translational research that addresses real-world problems and has the potential to make a significant impact. Since 2007, over $300,000 has been awarded to student innovators.
Sorrells is working on novel sensing technologies for biomedical applications at the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory to address critical needs for improving speed and accuracy. Her research is specifically focused on creating computationally inspired optical microscopes for faster and better characterization of biological specimens.
She has developed a method for photon counting in multiphoton microscopy, which enables high-precision image acquisition at previously unprecedented speeds. This new detection scheme allows for fast, noninvasive imaging of the metabolic activity in biological samples, including extracellular vesicles and bacteria. Sorrells has used her technology to characterize metabolic signatures of extracellular vesicles in cancer with the hope of using her technology for rapid biomarker detection in clinical screening and diagnostics.
Sorrells says, “It is such an honor to receive the Illinois Innovation Award in recognition of my work, especially considering how much pioneering work is happening on this campus. I am so grateful that I have found an environment where I am encouraged to explore my research interests, and I am thankful for the support of my PI Professor Stephen Boppart and everyone at the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory. My hope for the future is that I can continue to improve photon-counting technologies and use these technologies to investigate a variety of topics related to human health.”
Fiddler Innovation Fellowship
The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship is part of a $2 million endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to the University of Illinois. The endowment supports the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and innovative students who address societal or global challenges using an interdisciplinary approach.
Bara Saadah, a student at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine is the recipient of the $10,000 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, stewarded by the eDream Institute at NCSA. He has developed an anti-fatigue vest for surgeons to reduce fatigue and provide muscle relief. The vest utilizes multiple sensors to measure the surgeon's posture in real-time and provides feedback, alerting them to correct any improper posture that may lead to fatigue. The long-term goal of the anti-fatigue vest is to address the physician shortage by reducing early retirement of surgeons due to deteriorating health.
Saadah says, “I am honored to be the recipient of the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, and I am excited about the impact it will have on my work in innovation. With this award, I plan to continue developing the anti-fatigue vest with my co-founder Caywin Zhuang. We aim to refine our innovation and create a product that addresses the needs of surgeons while promoting their well-being.”
Saadah is also the CEO and founder of a startup called Diabeta Coach that helps manage stress in patients with Type 1 and 2 diabetes by providing personalized 1-on-1 coaching services that ultimately improve their long-term health outcomes.
“The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship will also offer support for my startup, Diabeta Coach, which aims to alleviate the stress that patients with diabetes experience from the daily tasks required to manage their diabetes. As I begin my residency in psychiatry at the Carle Foundation Hospital this summer, I am eager to use the support from the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship to continue innovating at the intersection of engineering and medicine,” he adds.
Illinois Innovation Award Finalists:
Anant Naik (Carle Illinois College of Medicine): Anant Naik is developing a new treatment that uses light therapy to lengthen the lives of patients who have undergone surgery to remove an aggressive form of brain cancer. Glioblastoma is the deadliest brain cancer with 15,000 new diagnoses every year. He is developing a device called BEACON that could potentially revolutionize brain tumor patient care by selectively ablating cancer and extending the life for glioblastoma patients.
Christian Guerrero-Juarez (Carle Illinois College of Medicine): Scarring of complex tissues, like skin, represents an unmet challenge that impacts the clinical outcome and long-term well-being of individuals globally. It is estimated that 100 million patients worldwide acquire skin scars because of disease, trauma, or elective surgeries. Christian’s cutting-edge research aims to address the biology of skin repair. His research findings have created a new paradigm shift in the field by demonstrating, for the first time, that skin wounds can bypass scarring – the default repair mechanism and regenerate de novo via cellular reprogramming. Christian aims to identify and generate new therapeutics to induce skin wounds to heal by regeneration in lieu of scarring via modulation of iron signaling. His work is foundational and will inspire new research and technological advancements aimed at modulation of pathological scarring in complex tissues beyond skin.
Learn more about the past recipients of the campus-wide innovation awards here.