Several weeks back, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet, lunch and chat with Dr. Weian Zhao, Associate Professor at the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology and Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California, Irvine. Dr. Zhao is also a co-founder of several start-up companies that aim to develop technologies for rapid diagnosis, stem cell therapy, and drug discovery, respectively. He is an extraordinarily busy, very passionate and focused scientist. 

Fortunately for us, his driving motivation is to contribute to human welfare with bold technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs.  He truly cares about dedication, honesty and integrity.

All about Nanotechnology Therapy and Exosomes

I was first introduced to Dr. Zhao for his research in nanotechnology treament, derived from bone marrow stem cells which has reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in mice and could eventually be used to help humans.  The interesting part .. “This novel treatment will be tested on humans in early 2020, initially on people with Type 1 diabetes,” said co-lead author Milad Riazifar, who worked on the study as a pharmacological sciences doctoral student in Zhao’s lab and is currently helping prepare for a City of Hope clinical trial of the method. “If successful, it could pave the way for treating other autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis.” 

In past experiments, intravenously injected stem cells – taken from bone marrow and activated with interferon gamma, an immune system protein – often got trapped in filter organs before reaching their target. For this study, published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers avoided that problem by extracting nano-sized particles called exosomes from the stem cells and injecting them into rodents with MS.

Loaded with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective RNA and protein molecules, the exosomes were able to slip through the blood-spinal cord barrier. In addition to rejuvenating lost motor skills and decreasing nerve damage caused by MS, they normalized the subjects’ immune systems, something conventional drugs can’t do, said study co-lead author Reza Mohammadi, a UCI doctoral candidate in materials science & engineering.

Getting a bit complicated?  Just remember EXOSOMES!!!

What does Dr. Zhao do with his extra time? 

Dr. Zhao’s research aims to 1) elucidate and eventually control the fate of transplanted stem cells and immune cells to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases, and 2) develop novel miniaturized devices for early diagnosis and monitoring for conditions including sepsis, antibiotic resistance and cancer. He has edited 1 book and 4 journal special issues and co-authored over 60 journal articles and 8 patent/disclosure applications. His work has been published in top journals including Science Translational MedicineNature CommunicationsNature Nanotechnology, PNAS, Blood, Neurology, Biomaterials, Lab on a Chip, JACS, Advanced Materials, and Angewandte Chemie, which has been cited more than 5000 times to date. Dr. Zhao has received numerous awards including the MIT’s Technology Review TR35 Award: the world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35 and NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.

And what about those fascinating start-ups?

Baylx Stem Cell Innovation is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focusing on the development of stem cell therapeutics for different diseases, particularly in the areas with significant unmet medical need. As they state in their mission statement:  We are innovators and biotechnology manufacturer that use our cutting-edge technologies to lead the industry forward. Our established technology platforms enable us to manufacture clinical-grade “off-the-shelf” Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells (hUC-MSC) from the unlimited source cord tissues that are traditionally regarded as medical waste.  We have been developing two categories of the stem cell therapeutic product candidates: hUC-MSC for Autoimmune Diseases and engineered hUC-MSC for Malignant Diseases.  Just take a look:

Amberstone Biosciences, enabling next generation immunotherapeutics discovery. 

This team of scientists have developed a proprietary single cell analysis platform technology that may sharply reduce the discovery time for immunotherapeutic candidates, antibodies, engineered cell lines and evolved enzymes, while allowing the handling o heterogeeous samples of various sources. 

HUH?  It’s complicated but actually exciting and a true lifesaver, enabling the analysis and fast matching of disease immune cells to effective immunotherapies … kind of like instant chemotherapy assessment for any cancer. 


And finally, let’s take a look at Velox Biosystems, defining the future of rapid and sensitive tests.  Velox, co-founded by Dr. Zhao is a start-up founded on UCI Technology for rapid diagnostic solutions for antibiotic resistance for urinary tract infections (UTI), a problem that affects nearly 50% of the population at least once in their lifetime. 

Their technology? 

Our Integrated Comprehensive Droplet Digital Detection, IC3D®, system has been engineered to deliver enrichment-free analytical results as fast and as simply as possible. With unparalleled sensitivity, our system has been designed to process crude samples, eliminating the laborious steps involved in traditional biochemical analysis such as centrifugation, pipetting, and filtration. Fully automated and capable of running a multitude of tests, IC3D® is the most reliable platform for detecting and monitoring pathogenic agents, such as bacteria, viruses, neurological, and cancer biomarkers.


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