Determination Leads to Improved Zika Test

Four years ago, Ph.D. candidate Tianyu Zheng arrived in America for the first time. After joining the Ph.D. program in the Department of Chemistry at UCF, he was determined to pursue an upper-level chemistry education. Now, one year out from finishing his doctoral degree at UCF, he’s been awarded the Outstanding Graduate Student award by the American Chemical Society for his research.

Zheng researches ways to find infectious diseases like Zika by using gold nanoparticles and dynamic light scattering. These nanoparticles are very small, shiny spots that are able to detect diseases in the blood by detecting interested proteins. It is a much faster and cheaper detection system than many other technologies out today.

“Currently, most diagnostic tests for Zika virus detection either take too long or require expensive equipment,” Zheng said. “In contrast, it’s possible for us to know if you have a disease within 30 minutes. Our instruments are the size of a shoebox, and very portable. This highlights the potential of our technology for use in regions where more people can benefit.”

Aside from regional benefits, Zheng’s research can be used to detect not only infectious diseases like Zika but also certain types of cancer.

“We have done tests for prostate cancer,” he said. “Often, people need to go through many painful and expensive tests to see if they’re affected. But our test is affordable and transportable, so everyone can benefit from it.”

He works alongside his supervisor and UCF faculty member Qun Treen Huo, Ph.D., who developed the technological product called D2Dx that makes this detection and his research possible. Huo’s company, Nano Discovery, hopes to manufacture the Zika detection test and deliver it to the market once it receives FDA approval.

Once approved, the test will be administered first in the nation and then the rest of the world. Zheng feels a responsibility toward his research.

“I want to do a good job, because I realized this is something I have to do,” he said. “I hope to find a good job in the industry after graduation.”

The Outstanding Graduate Student award is recognition of the strength, hard work and determination Zheng has, as well has his dedication to his research.

“It encouraged me within this career,” he said. “Even if I may not continue in academia, it is still a huge inspiration for what I want to do in the future. I will keep going and finish.”

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