Heather Agnew, is a graduate student in Chemistry working in the laboratory of James R. Heath, the Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor and Professor of Chemistry. Agnew contributed to the development of a progressive technique to create inexpensive, yet highly reliable and stable biochemical compounds that have the potential to replace antibodies (blood proteins produced in response to specific toxins or antigens) used in many standard medical diagnostic tests. This antibody equivalent, or "protein capture agent" protocol, allows for more efficient, inexpensive diagnostics.
In her Lemelson-MIT presentation, entitled "Protein Capture Agents for Improving the Performance and Stability of Point-of-Care Diagnostics [Requires Flash plugin | Length: 23 min.]," Agnew explains the stable and robust nature of the protein capture agents. Their ability to withstand higher temperatures enhances their applications, paving the way for more reliable, inexpensive, and readily available medical diagnostic testing for use not only in the United States, but also in developing countries.
Agnew was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She received dual undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Pennsylvania State University. As a Gates Scholar, she received her master's degree in Chemistry from the University of Cambridge. Throughout her academic career, Agnew has received numerous honors and awards, and has continually volunteered as a research mentor and teacher for youth. Agnew plans to continue her pursuit of biochemical solutions as a principal research investigator in a start-up commercialization venture. Agnew may also pursue a teaching career at a leading institution.
Yvonne Y. Chen, is a graduate student in Chemical Engineering working in the laboratory of Christina D. Smolke, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. She received the finalist prize for her work on improving advanced, cell-based solutions for the treatment of certain incurable diseases, including various cancers and inoperable tumors. In her Lemelson presentation, entitled "Improving Cell-Based Cancer Therapy with RNA Regulatory Systems [Requires Flash plugin | Length: 19 min.]," Chen describes an innovative T-cell (a type of white blood cell) therapy for treating aggressive, inoperable tumors.
Traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy have often proved unable to eradicate diffusive tumors such as glioblastoma (the most common type of primary brain tumor in adults), and these therapies can have severe side effects. And conventional immunotherapy, which enlists the body's immune system to fight diseases, while conceptually well-suited to cancer treatment, has had limited success—efforts to improve its efficacy have raised safety concerns for leukemic growth. Chen's research has the potential to greatly increase both the safety and the efficacy of immunotherapy by controlling T-cell proliferation with regulatory systems based on engineered RNA (ribonucleic acid) devices—thus avoiding risks of uncontrolled T-cell proliferation and eventual leukemic side effects. Chen's novel RNA-based technology is a promising therapeutic candidate for clinical applications in the fight against cancer, and is adaptable to a wide range of disease treatment strategies.
Chen was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved with her family to Rowland Heights, California, when she was 13 years old. She earned her BS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and her MS in Chemical Engineering from Caltech. Chen plans to pursue a career in academia as a researcher at a major institution or in public policy as it relates to scientific research.