University of Houston’s assistant professor Wei-Chuan Shih has won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the first from the NSF’s Biophotonics Program granted in the greater Houston area.
Shih was awarded a five-year, $400,000 grant to develop a new method to identify, count and profile bacteria more efficiently.
“You can use very laboratory-intensive techniques to detect bacteria but that is very expensive and requires a lot of sample preparation,” Shih said.
Shih’s research combines two different methods of Raman microspectroscopy coupled with computational image analysis to produce fast and accurate results.
“A commercial Raman microspectroscopy system is very slow,” Shih said.
“We are building a new instrument that allows us to get the same kind of data but in a fraction of the time by using statistical analysis to mine and recognize patterns, which is more accurate than visual inspection of data.”
The research Shih is conducting is useful in medical diagnostics, where bacteria cell culture experiments can take days to yield results.
“There is a concern globally for abuse in antibiotic treatment, and part of the reason is that technology cannot help to get a quicker diagnosis,” Shih said.
“This technology provides much faster confirmation whether bacteria is present, so doctors can then make a better decision whether to prescribe antibiotics or not.”
This new technology has far reaching implications in not only the medical community, but in environmental sciences, food safety and biological warfare defense.
“One possibility is to be able to detect biological agents in airport security,” Shih said.
Along with professor Jack Wolfe, Shih advises two doctoral candidates and three undergraduate students who help him in his research.
“Financial support from the grant will allow me to hire more research assistants,” Shih said.