Yeo Receives NIH Trailblazer Award and R01 Grant

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that Associate Professor W. Hong Yeo from Georgia Tech's George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering has been awarded a Trailblazer Award for New and Early Stage Investigators. The award is for a project titled “Development of Nanomembrane Electronics and Machine-Learning Algorithms for Quantitative Screening of Dysphagia Therapeutics” and comes with $645,000 in R21 funding over three years.

Dysphagia is a difficulty or discomfort in swallowing that afflicts almost 15 million Americans, particularly individuals 50-60 years or older. Currently, there is no available treatment for dysphagia. Although ongoing research focuses on the development of new drugs, none of the existing systems provides a quantitative, continuous evaluation of drug efficacy with animal models or human subjects. Yeo and his lab aim to develop a novel, nanomembrane electronic system that offers a continuous, quantitative assessment of swallowing activities in a non-invasive way with animal models, which will help develop new dysphagia drugs.

“We need better drugs for treating this disease,” said Yeo. “When you develop a drug, you need tools to test the efficacy, and that qualitative tool doesn’t exist for dysphagia. That’s why we proposed this non-invasive real-time continuous monitoring system for swallowing.”

Yeo’s system is based on his previously developed low-cost printable wireless sensors and electronics, which can be affixed to a user with minimal or no discomfort. 

The Trailblazer Award is an opportunity for NIH-defined New and Early Stage Investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the NIBIB that integrate engineering and the physical sciences with the life and/or biomedical sciences. A Trailblazer project may be exploratory, developmental, proof of concept, or high risk-high impact, and may be technology design-directed, discovery-driven, or hypothesis-driven. Importantly, applicants must propose research approaches for which there are minimal or no preliminary data.

In addition to the award, Yeo also recently received an NIH R01 grant ($1.7 million) for a project titled “Deep Phenotyping in Blepharospasm,” which will be conducted with another PI, Dr. Hyder Jinnah, a professor in the Emory University School of Medicine. They will use a miniaturized wearable electronic system to wirelessly quantify different aspects of blepharospasm, such as increased blinking, eye spasms, and apraxia of eyelid opening.