Editor’s Note: This story is highlighted in ASU Now’s Year in Review. Read more stories from 2019.
Hao Yan, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, was named to Fast Company’s “2019 Most Creative People in Business” list for his work using nanobots to fight cancerous tumors by choking their supply of blood.
Hao Yan is Distinguished ASU Milton D. Glick Professor and Director of the Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences.
Download the full image
Fast Company recognized Yan’s work using nanobots to treat cancer at the molecular level. A pioneer in the field of DNA origami, Yan and his team at the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics draw their inspiration from nature, seeking to solve complex human problems.
The magazine’s annual list seeks to spotlight people in a wide range of fields who “have accomplished something in the past year that has taken an entire industry forward in unprecedented ways.” Yan is part of a very diverse group of well-known individuals, including actress Michelle Pfeiffer, late-night talk show host Seth Meyers, athletes, activists and performers.
“I am very honored to be on this list,” said Yan, Milton D. Glick Distinguished Professor at the School of Molecular Sciences. “I am a scientist. I do not consider myself a businessman. Despite his scientific orientation above all, Yan’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to launch Nanobot Biosciences, a start-up startup that is ready to take its technology to commercial use Yan hopes to start treating human cancer patients within the next five years.
Fast Company focused on Yan’s work in building robots that are “a thousandth the width of a strand of hair – and“ constructed from DNA folded into 3D shapes. ”Nanorobots are programmed to shrink tumors by finding the source of the tumor blood supply and stopping that supply. What is very important about this breakthrough is that it does not affect healthy cells – a conundrum in the world of cancer care with treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy According to Fast Company, this “unique form of nanostructure technology has shown promise in early testing, doubling the survival rate of mice with cancer.”
Yan credits his ability to think creatively about nature, to ASU President Michael Crow, and to being hosted in a highly interdisciplinary research environment at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.
“President Crow is someone I truly admire. He always thinks outside the box, ”Yan said. Yan explains that being at ASU means that he is not constrained by traditional borders and that he has the freedom to take risks. Yan thinks that perfection can sometimes be the enemy of creativity.
“The world comes with a lot of perfectionism,” said Yan. “Although I’m used to thinking deep and digging deeper, I can’t be creative if I’m always trying to find the perfect answer. Looking around, it’s just not a perfect world, we have to find creative solutions for unmet challenges and be prepared to take risks ”.
“Professor Yan is an exceptional researcher who constantly innovates to meet major healthcare challenges through an interdisciplinary approach,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, Executive Vice President, ASU Knowledge Enterprise and Director of Research and Innovation. “His work exemplifies the spirit of creativity that has the potential to have a global impact. He fully deserves this recognition.
Yan is also proud to create an atmosphere where emerging scientists can flourish. “I throw them in the pond and let them swim. I don’t want to produce a technician. I want to produce a creative thinker and a scientist who can come up with his own ideas and solve problems on his own. Testament to this approach is the fact that Yan’s lab has three researchers who have been named “new innovators” by the National Institutes of Health. He considers identifying promising scientists to be one of his most creative acts.
“Creativity and courage are at the heart of good science,” said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “Hao’s work inspires us all. It is representative of the intellectual curiosity that drives our organization – and most certainly, the spirit of innovation that is fostered and encouraged throughout Arizona State University.
“The environment of the Biodesign Institute really provides a space for people to easily access so many different disciplines,” said Yan. He appreciates the ability to continue to learn from others. “I didn’t know about tumor biology or cancer immunotherapy before, but now, thanks to my colleagues here, I can merge my knowledge with theirs. I’m still learning.
When asked what he would do if he wasn’t a scientist, he replied, “I would be a rock star, playing electric guitar and singing on stage.”
The Chinese National Center for Nanoscience and Technology is a partner in Yan’s work.
Yan’s honor comes a few years after another ASU luminary, Charles Arntzen, was named one of the magazine’s most creative people in 2015. Arntzen, co-founder of the Biodesign Institute, was recognized for his leadership role in the development of ZMapp, a therapy to fight Ebola, produced in tobacco plants.
Written by Diane Price