“How rapid, how precise, how smart — and it provides a better result to the
patient and the medical doctor at a lower cost!” Ahn adds with a smile.
Ahn’s research led him to become the
founder of Siloam Biosciences Inc. in 2004. He has already attracted approx $7.8
M for Siloam Biosciences in contract research funds and investments. At Siloam
Biosciences, he is primarily responsible for shaping the vision and prioritizing
the objectives for its growth. In November 2008, Siloam opened an 8,000
square-foot manufacturing facility in Cincinnati’s Forest Park neighborhood,
with the hopes of launching its first commercial product in 2010.
At UC, Ahn is the director of the Microsystems and BioMEMS Laboratory.
“My group’s efforts started when I started the microfluidics and BioMEMS lab
at UC. And then based on DARPA (U.S. Department of Defense) I got two huge
projects as a principal investigator. One project came after the Sept. 11
attacks, before I got a project with almost $4 million to develop a handheld
bioterrorism detection system,” Ahn explains. “I was lucky as a junior faculty
Ahn earned his PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the Georgia
Institute of Technology in 1993. After receiving his PhD, he worked as a
post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Electrochemical Technology and
Microfabrication at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in New York. In 1994, he
joined the UC faculty as an assistant professor of electrical engineering.
He has more
than 15 years of demonstrated experience at managing multi-disciplinary BioMEMS
and lab-on-a-chip-related projects, with over $12 million in research funding at
UC. He has published approximately 300 journal and peer-reviewed conference
papers. He holds six U.S. patents and has also filed 10 patents related to
microfluidics and smart lab-on-a-chip technology.
While balancing the demands of both teaching and research, Ahn has also
served on the editorial boards of several journals in his field. He is currently
serving as the editor of the IEEE Journal of MEMS and is also serving on the
editorial board of the Journal of Microfluidics and Nanofluidics and the Journal
of Micromechanics and Microengineering. He is also a Fellow at the Institute of
Ahn’s lab-on-a-chip technology has many applications beyond the examining
table and the emergency room.
“In the battlefield, medic commanders usually want to measure their soldiers’
operation capabilities when some of them get wounded. So I proposed another
use,” Ahn demonstrates. “We created a tiny digitized blood analyzer because a
soldier cannot bring a large one, so this should be a light one like a
wrist-watch. Then, at the time, I thought blood is sticky, right? So, a
re-usable blood chip, which is useable in hospitals, wouldn’t work for them. So,
we had a strong motivation to invent an innovative disposable lab-on-a-chip
using polymer and injection molding technology at a low cost.”
Ahn’s device is now able to measure five analytes at a time.
“We are limited not
by device but by desire,” he says.
What could be more innovative compared to others?
How about giving a mechanical pump and valve on the disposable blood
“Still, fluidic control is desired for the lab-on-a-a-chip, but the miniature
valve and pump doesn’t fit and is difficult to fabricate in a disposable
platform,” Ahn says. “My major contribution is that I invented a novel gas
generator inside of this to substitute for a pump. We figured out how to make
the lab-on-a-chip operate smartly on polymer, achieving the sequential driving
of blood and reagent solutions on the chip.”
“That is the amazing invention — I made it. Smarter! This is exciting. To the
best of my knowledge, we have realized a novel smart polymer lab-on-a-chip for
clinical diagnostics for the first time.”
Other future developments include working with UC neurosurgeon Dr. Raj
Narayan to produce a lab-on-a-tube to insert in the brain to monitor traumatic
brain injury (TBI), and Dr. Timothy Cripe from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Medical Center for the development of translational labs-on-a-chip and
technologies for working on a cancer-targeting gene-delivery tool.
Ahn hopes to extend this technology to help other people in undeveloped
countries, so he and his team are now talking with the Bill and Melinda Gates
Ahn is quick to acknowledge that he was never working alone. He worked as
part of a cross-college multidisciplinary team including “five to six co-PIs and
20 to 30 students, many from UC’s College of Art and Sciences, College of
Medicine, and Cincinnati Children’s” besides his own College of Engineering. He
is currently one of the focus group leaders in the CTSA project, which was
recently awarded $23 million from the National Institutes of Health for its
“I’m working with many medical doctors. That’s key — an engineer has
limitations, specifically for clinical desires,” Ahn says. “I asked myself, ‘How
I can find the right collaborator with the right capability, the right attitude
and the right mindset?’ But at UC we have the capability. We have good people.
The smart polymer lab-on-a-chip technology is a 100 percent pure UC-born
technology. UC fully supported transferring the technology to Siloam Biosciences
for its commercialization. I’m proud of that.”
Ahn has reason to be proud.
“Our name of the University of
Cincinnati is known. Everybody knows about this program. I make the program
successful through multidisciplinary team efforts. I also bring in a lot of
research money. I produced 20 PhDs; a lot are now in industry and six of them
are now faculty across the United States.
“Everybody has a dream. My dream is to help people who are suffering. My
passion is to challenge young people to have a dream, including many foreign
students and even a Korean-American immigrant like me,” he adds, smiling. “This
is my motto. ‘Love the people, help the people in the trust of God.’ Isn’t it
the call of my life? It’s my pleasure.
“It is still my dream. I joined the University of Cincinnati,” Ahn says. “It
is a blessing.”