Joyce Wong Elected National Academy of Inventors Fellow

By Michael Seele

Professor Joyce Wong (BME, MSE, MED) traces her path to the National Academy of Inventors from a “boot camp” workshop she attended in 2015 for the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program (I-Corps). Already an accomplished researcher, Wong was exposed to the idea of thinking about translation from the outset of a research project and learned about all the things that go into commercializing an innovation that don’t necessarily involve engineering.

That approach has resulted in three issued patents in the past year, and a few more pending. Whether innovating COVID-19 negative pressure isolation tents for hospitals, devising a way to image and treat abdominal surgical adhesions, or creating a method to enhance tissue engineering, Wong has adopted a mindset of innovation that has earned her election to the National Academy of Inventors’ 2020 class of Fellows. She will be formally inducted at a ceremony in June.

Wong said the I-Corps program aims to help researchers bring innovation to the marketplace. While well versed their own technical innovations, researchers often lack the entrepreneurial skills needed to bring them into use. The I-Corps program exposes them to business concepts like identifying user needs through interviewing stakeholders, estimating revenue streams, seeking funding beyond grants, and considering government regulatory requirements.

“I feel like I’ve been re-living I-Corps in this time of COVID,” Wong said. In the spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to overwhelm hospitals, her cousin, an emergency room doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told her about the trouble health care workers were having getting personal protective equipment. They got to thinking about flipping the PPE; instead of health care workers wearing the equipment, why not design a device that would isolate a COVID patient’s infection from the hospital staff? Drawing in expertise from Master Lecturer Enrique Gutierrez-Wing (ME), Associate Professor J. Gregory McDaniel (ME, MSE), Instructor Aleks Zosuls (BME), and others, they began developing a prototype of a negatively pressurized respiratory isolation box that would prevent a patient’s exhaled air from entering the room. They are continuing work on the concept.

She is also working on a non-invasive way to image and treat abdominal surgical adhesions – bands of tissue that often form after surgery and pull organs into abnormal positions. Current imaging technologies like ultrasound can’t see these adhesions, so Wong is designing microbubbles that bind to the adhesions and show up on an ultrasound. She is now working on a treatment method.

Wong is also developing a degradable scaffold that allows biomedical engineers to build multi-layered pediatric blood vessel tissues, and is working on unique nanoparticles that could isolate rare immune cells to treat cancer. More recently, she has been begun applying these engineering approaches to women’s reproductive health.

“I’m excited by this honor,” Wong said. “I’m grateful for my laboratory trainees – past and present – and the support from BU and my colleagues, especially the Office of Research, the NSF, the Office of Technology Development, the College of Engineering and the Office of Industry Engagement.”

Wong is now the seventh ENG faculty member inducted into the NAI. The others include University President Robert Brown, Distinguished Professor of Photonics and Optoelectronics Emeritus Theodore Moustakas, Distinguished Professor of Translational Research Mark Grinstaff (BME, MSE, Chemistry, MED), Professor David Bishop (ECE, MSE, ME, BME, Physics) and Professor Xin Zhang (ME, MSE, BME, ECE) and Professor Vinod Sarin (ME, MSE).

Wong is a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.