Competition: US & Canada
University of California, Santa Barbara
Hyongsok (Tom) Soh is a Professor in the departments of mechanical and materials engineering and holds the Ruth Garland Endowed Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He received bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and materials science and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University (1992, 1993) and both master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University (1999). His studies at Stanford were conducted under the direction of Calvin Quate, a National Medal of Science winner and fellow Guggenheim Fellow (Applied Mathematics, 1968).
Dr. Soh began his professional career in 1999 at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey as a member of its technical staff working on high-speed wireless and optical communications; in what may be the swiftest advancement in the history of Bell Labs, in one year he was promoted to Technical Manager, in which capacity he was supervising a team of fourteen scientists. In recognition of his contributions to his field, he was presented with both Bell Lab’s President’s Award (2001) and MIT’s TR35 Award (2002), which honors outstanding innovators under the age of 35.
But his own experience with a dangerous illness redirected his interests to analytical biotechnology. Having learned first-hand how long it can take to get results from diagnostic tests, causing treatment delays and negatively impacting a patient’s prognosis, he set out to create methods that would allow point-of-care diagnoses. To that end, in 2003 he left Bell Labs to take up an appointment as Assistant Professor of Materials and Mechanical Engineering at UCSB.
In his lab at UCSB, he and his team used non-uniform electrokinetics, high-gradient magnetophoresis, and microfluidic technology to develop disposable cell sorters that had applications ranging from early detection of viral infections at point-of-care to pinpointing circulating tumor cells. His lab developed novel methods to efficiently generate synthetic affinity reagents that specifically bind to target molecules and cell surfaces. Importantly, these reagents do not require refrigeration and are significantly less expensive to produce, making them particularly valuable to developing countries with few financial or material resources.
Building on these breakthroughs, Tom Soh, Nobel Laureate Alan Heeger, André DeFusco, and Frederick W. Gluck founded Cynvenio Biosystems in 2008. Its technologies will enable the comprehensive molecular analysis of cancer and other diseases by efficiently isolating target cells with high purity. According to Cynvenio’s website, their technology will enable physicians to “select individualized targeted therapy for each patient, and drive a greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms of diseases towards novel therapeutic solutions.”
Tom Soh also serves as the Associate Director of California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI) at UCSB and is affiliated with the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies (ICB), a joint endeavor of UCSB, MIT, and Caltech. In addition to the honors already mentioned, he is the recipient of the Office of Naval Research’s Young Investigator Award (2004), the Beckman Young Investigator Award (2005), and the ALA Innovator Award (2009). He has published over ninety technical articles and one monograph, and has been granted ten patents.
During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, he will continue his work toward developing rapid in vitro generation of affinity reagents for point-of-care diagnostics.