Female inventors contribute groundbreaking research and innovation

By Linda Kesselring | Emory Report | March 20, 2017

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Lily Yang focuses her research on developing tumor-targeting nanoparticles for cancer therapy.

Emory University is home to many brilliant female inventors who have contributed groundbreaking research and innovation to the society at large. From new treatment methods for life-threatening diseases to new accessible techniques for health education, Emory women are helping shape the world in which we live. March is Women’s History Month, and Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer is highlighting Emory female inventors.

Sheila Angeles-Han: Assessing the effect of visual impairment in children
Approximately 5 million children in the U.S. suffer from some degree of visual impairment; however, many available diagnostic surveys regarding visual ailments are written for adults. Recognizing the need for an age-appropriate diagnostic tool, Emory ophthalmologist Sheila Angeles-Han, MD, developed a new survey made up of questions to assess the effect of visual impairment on the quality of life and function in youth. This survey has vastly improved both the accuracy and efficiency of diagnosing and treating impaired vision in children. Read more

Cecilia Bellcross: A web-based screening tool for breast cancer
Although the general population is acutely aware of the possible genetic heritability of certain strains of breast cancer, the referral process of at-risk patients to undergo genetic testing has been historically erratic. Emory genetics counselor Cecilia Bellcross, PhD, noticed this discrepancy between at-risk patients and genetic testing and saw the need for a more efficient screening tool that would suggest whether a woman should consider further genetic counsel regarding susceptibility to heritable breast cancer. Thus, the B-RST screening tool was born. This method asks women six basic questions regarding their personal and familial cancer history to identify individuals particularly vulnerable to heritable breast cancer. The results of this screening tool can then recommend whether those individuals should seek further medical council and genetic testing. The B-RST tool was such a success it is used by individuals and medical professionals around the world. Read more

Marcia Holstad: The LIVE network: medication support for HIV positive people
Consistent and regular dosage of antiretroviral medication is an absolute necessity for all HIV positive individuals. Without strict adherence to a daily treatment regimen these individuals risk further illness or spread of the disease. To combat this problem, Marcia Holstad, DSN, RN-C, FNP created the LIVE network, a music program used to educate and motivate HIV positive individuals about living with HIV and the importance of regular medication. The network features multiple music genres, all of which contain original content that is not only accessible and enjoyable, but also informative. The initial response to this music program by a focus group of HIV positive patients was enthusiastic, with many participants asking to share the network with their loved ones. Holstad, a professor in Emory’s nursing school, used this innovative education method to not only help improve HIV treatment, but also to make learning about the disease and its treatment more fun. Read more

Barbara Rothbaum: Novel treatment for phobias, addictions and post-traumatic stress uses virtual reality
In the early 1990s Emory psychiatry professor Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, partnered with Larry Hodges, then a computer specialist at Georgia Tech, on a study of the use of virtual reality exposure for treating a phobia – in this case, the fear of heights. The pair knew they were onto something when seven out of 10 study participants willingly put themselves in real life height situations. Virtual encounters could replace certain real world situations, making treatment for things like a fear of flying far more accessible. That original study was followed up by a 1995 Department of Defense-funded effort to evaluate virtual reality exposure therapy. The virtual reality technology was licensed to the company Virtually Better Inc., which was founded in 1996. It is widely regarded as the leading innovator in the development of evidence-based, virtual reality environments. It uses virtual reality to treat a wide range of behavioral and cognitive disorders including phobias, addictions and PTSD, and its technologies range from highly immersive environments to easy-to-use pediatric mobile apps. Read more

Rani Singh: When managing your food can be vital
When it comes to metabolic disorders such as urea cycle disorders or phenylketonuria, the use of drug- or vitamin supplement-based treatments is often less successful than the use of a strict dietary regimen. These types of disorders are often negative reactions to intake of certain amino acids or compounds. By using a structured dietary plan, including restriction and or avoidance of certain foods, many metabolic diseases can have minimally disruptive symptoms. However, active and diligent adherence to medically suggested dietary guidelines is often extremely complex and arduous. Knowing this, Rani Singh, MD, director of the Metabolic Nutrition Program in Emory’s Division of Medical Genetics, developed a pocket-sized food list booklet that contains clear and accessible information on specific metabolic diseases as well as medically recommended dietary restrictions. Read more

Lily Yang: The incredible potential of the nanoparticle
Lily Yang, MD, PhD, the Nancy Panoz chair of surgery in cancer research and a member of the Winship Cancer Institute, came to Emory with the goal of exploring the use of nanotechnology to fight disease, with a focus on cancer. She is currently conducting groundbreaking research to develop multifunctional tumor-targeting nanoparticles to detect and identify primary and metastatic tumors. She hopes to further the use of these particles to deliver therapeutic agents to targeted tumors. Though a final treatment method has yet to be produced, Yang’s work shows great promise in revolutionizing cancer treatment. Read more

For more information, and interviews with inventors Barbara Rothbaum and Harriet Robinson, visit the Office of Technology Transfer website.