Beilby Medal and Prize 2017 Winner: Ken-Tye Yong Q&A

12 October 2017

13 Oct 2017

Associate Professor Ken-Tye Yong, Director for the Centre for Bio Devices and Signal Analysis at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, is the 2017 recipient of the Beilby Medal and Prize. The award is reserved for exceptional research in chemical engineering, applied materials science, energy efficiency or a related field. Georgina Hines spoke to Prof Yong on his win.

Tell me about your work on quantum dots that led to your nomination.

I started working on quantum dots (QDs) when I was working my PhD project, with a focus to use solution phase synthesis to prepare different types of QDs. At the time, it was challenging to prepare them since there are an array of synthesis protocols available in literature which yielded differently-sized and -shaped nanocrystals. I enjoyed the experience of creating my own recipes to prepare the desired type of QDs for electronic applications.

Upon PhD graduation, I took up a postdoc fellow position where my focus was on employing QDs for biophotonic applications. My training was the best research experience I’ve had, as I was given the freedom to pursue new avenues of using QDs for bioimaging. For instance, I’ve developed a series of bioconjugated QDs for targeted imaging of tumor in vivo.  This experience allowed me to embark on research in nanomedicine after I joined the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

During my stay at NTU, my group started to prepare the next generation of heavy metal-free QDs for drug and gene delivery therapy of human diseases, including cancers. In addition, we work on understanding the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of QDs in the body. Such information is crucial for translating QDs for clinical applications. I believe the broad nature and depth of my work has led to my nomination.

What are the future applications?

Soon, I envision that QDs will be translated for specific clinical applications. For example, QDs can be used as contrast probes for image-guided surgery for tumour removal use where the benefit will outweigh risk factors. Currently, my group is investigating the impacts of QD exposure on the reproduction and offspring of small animals over multiple generations. Such findings are crucial to map out the guidelines needed to prepare safe QDs for various applications, as more commercialised products are made of nanoparticles.

What are the obstacles for commercialisation of your research?

For the successful commercialisation of nanocrystals in clinical applications, comprehensive studies of the toxicity of standardized QD formulations, such as long-term toxicological and pharmacokinetic investigations of nanocrystals, are needed. These studies are generally time consuming. Currently, researchers worldwide from different disciplines are working together to study the long-term effects of QDs in the body. This is an encouraging step toward sharing and utilising global resources for speeding up the translation process of the clinical use of QDs.

How do you feel about winning the award?

I feel very honoured and humbled to receive this prize, mainly because it ranks me in the same league of accomplished researchers who previously won the prize, and whose research I admire tremendously. I am very grateful to those who nominated me for this prize. This award brings attention to recent efforts on using nanomaterials and biophotonics to improve state-of-the-art healthcare and medical diagnostics, and will thereby help to create new imaging and therapy solutions to combat many human diseases.

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