Faculty Spotlight: Professor Yu Lei Inducted into AIMBE, Looks to the Future

By: Taylor Caron

Professor Yu Lei (left) with graduate students Qiuchen Dong and Xiaoyu Ma. (Peter Morenus for UConn)

Professor Yu Lei has been inducted into the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering for his work in biological sensor design and testing. AIMBE is a one of the most prestigious institutes for medical and biomedical engineers as it comprises of only the top 2% of professionals in the field. While he is proud of his achievements, he said he has no intention of resting on his laurels. His research is heading toward a focus on digital technology which would make biosensors more affordable for individuals.

Lei spoke of the nature of his work that AIMBE is recognizing: “AIMBE considers professionals whose accomplishments are related to medical issues. It has always been my desire to work toward innovating more effective and affordable tools for medical professionals which is why this is so rewarding,” he said.

Lei has been credited with adapting the traditional area of electrochemistry for nanoscale structures for not only sensing, but also for applications in biocatalysis and chemical catalysis. The institute recognizes him as the pioneer in developing nanostructured metal oxide based enzymatic and non-enzymatic glucose biosensors with strong success in combating diabetes. AIMBE has seen these achievements, among others, as seminal advancements in public health.

 

He spoke about the process of induction which includes nomination, rigorous screen testing, and voting by the College of Fellows. He said there must be an affirmative vote of at least 74.5% in order to be inducted.

 

“It was certainly surprising to know that so many of AIMBE’s incredibly prestigious College affirmed my induction, but also was an excellent feeling that all this hard work paid off,” he said.

According to Lei, a professional network of AIMBE’s stature can significantly promote and advance a researcher and their university. He said that UConn is increasingly becoming a more recognized and accolated research university, and that being able to represent the Chemical Engineering and Biomolecular Department at AIMBE will only further highlight the program on a national level.

Lei said that networking opportunities with AIMBE can aid with research projects going forward. As previously mentioned, Lei believes the future of biosensors, a field in which he already is seen as a pioneer, needs to look to digital technology. A digital biosensor will not only be more affordable than electrochemical biosensors, but also can be more precise in detecting targeted molecules.

 

“We are looking to develop a biosensor which can detect a small molecule, allowing for medical professionals to detect and track dangerous or toxic molecules early on. This is the kind of technology which is available in some hospitals, but it is very large and expensive equipment. This technology needs to be available for individuals so they can communicate with their doctors regularly about the concentration level of toxic molecules or biomarkers for diseases,” Lei said.

 

Though Lei cannot disclose too much about the specificities of his current research, he was happy to comment that there have been reassuring successes. He mentioned that even the current biosensors used in hospitals can error in their use of the universal standard, and that a more personalized system is necessary.

“So different people have different thresholds regarding biomarker concentration. What is dangerous for me might not necessarily be dangerous for someone else and vice versa. What we’re looking for is home-use, so that different persons can track their own individual molecule concentration. If there’s a sudden spike one day, they can contact their doctor earlier rather than later.”

Lei’s research group consists of undergraduate and graduate students who work closely with the professor on this relatively new area of research. Lei admits that he has high expectations for his students, but it is because he believes in the power of this technology for the public health and beyond.

“Yes, sometimes I push them hard but I selected them because I know they are capable of pursuing this research with me. These kinds of biosensors could also have significant applications in environmental work. This is what excites me: I think it’s important to always be pushing forward, always looking to the future for new opportunities,” he said.