Hickey Innovation Impact Award: Geoff Vince, PhD

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The winner of the 2020 Hickey Innovation Impact Award, Geoff Vince, PhD, Chair of Biomedical Engineering (BME) in the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic, says he is where he is today due to indecision. When studying at the University of Leicester in England, he decided to pursue both chemistry and biochemistry after failing to decide which he liked best. When seeking further education at the University of Liverpool, he chose the path to a biomedical engineering degree, as the field is multiplexed by nature – research here includes a little bit of everything. Following his desire to diversify experiences, Dr. Vince came to Cleveland Clinic in 1992 to work on a grant through the American Heart Association on atherosclerosis. Through the grant, Dr. Vince created a device for intravascular ultrasound to detect plaque in the coronary arteries. The technology was subsequently patented and licensed to Volcano Corporation, and, following the success of this deal, Dr. Vince worked at Volcano for six years before returning to Cleveland Clinic to become chair of BME in 2011. Dr. Vince’s research has always focused on the cardiovascular space – until COVID-19 came to the United States. It was here that Dr. Vince’s dynamic background came in handy, allowing him to pivot to bring a viable testing solution to life.

Dr. Vince mobilized a team from across Lerner Research Institute to launch a project that would address a crucial need within the healthcare community. Working with Aaron Fleishman, PhD, Biomedical Engineering, and Feng Lin, PhD, Inflammation & Immunity, the team began to think about the detection and diagnosis of COVID-19. Recognizing speed and invasiveness were the fatal flaws, the group set out to allow sample collection that was faster and less invasive than a nasopharyngeal swab. The solution? A Breathalyzer test that captures vapor droplets and amplifies the virus signal for better results in a smaller time frame.

Their concept takes the breath of a patient and condenses it against a hydrophobic surface to drive the sample into a “solution containing magnetic nanoparticles coated with antibodies directed toward a surface antigen of SARS-VoV-2 virus.” The suspension is then passed into a microfluidic separator, which sorts the suspension based on its magnetism, identifying presence of the virus.

With the Hickey Innovation Impact Award, the team has been able to jump-start their project and create plans to build a 3D-printed prototype of the Breathalyzer device. Currently, they are experimenting with different proteins to capture the maximum amount of virus and best separate the virus particles. Dr. Vince also credits Raed Dweik, MD, Ed Reineks, MD, PhD, and Mike Hansen, PhD, for helping to push this technology to where it is today.

“Necessity is the mother of invention – an innovation like this would not have happened without the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Vince. “Mobilizing BME was easy – I work with a great group of engineers. Everyone was really excited about the opportunity.”

Though focusing on the COVID-19 embodiment of the device with the Hickey Award, the team believes it can be modified with different proteins and antibodies to detect other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu and tuberculosis.

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