NanoBioFAB Works with Defense Health Agency and WVU on Medical Nanosensors

Frederick-based company NanoBioFAB (Nanotechnology and Biotechnology Fabrication), is working with the Defense Health Agency and West Virginia University to improve training for medical and nursing students nationwide. The company, co-founded by Xiaonao Liu and Ruoting Yang, creates small nanosensors that, when added to medical mannequins, can provide feedback to students. 

“If I were to push on you and ask, ‘Does this hurt?’ you could tell me. By integrating our sensor array into medical mannequins, doctors and other medical professionals in training get that same feedback quickly,” Liu said. “This helps them understand how their actions would affect a living person and lets them fine-tune their practice.”

For example, some sensors measure pressure, and can tell students whether they’re pressing too hard on the mannequin’s stomach or chest. Others measure oxygen and gas, offering real-life metrics to the 30,000 students that pass through WVU annually. 

The partnership was born from the DHA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, which has helped small businesses participate in federal research and development since 1982. 

The SBIR program has three phases. In Phase One, the company must prove the feasibility of its concept within six months. Phase Two — the stage NanoBioFAB is currently in — is a two year research and development effort, with the goal of creating a finished prototype. The DHA provides $1 million in funding for this phase. Finally, in Phase Three, the company markets the product to the commercial and government markets. 

Through the SBIR program, NanoBioFAB is working to perfect its high throughput inkjet-assisted nano printing and screening (IA-NANO) platform so the sensors can measure pressure and chemical compounds. When completed, the sensors will be able to improve medical training in a low-cost and low-voltage manner.

Liu previously worked as a scientist at CalTech before moving across the country with her family and founding NanoBioFAB. As a scientist-turned-businesswoman, Liu was looking for possible mentors and support when she found FITCI (Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc.)

“I was thinking of how to transfer from the research field to the business field. It’s a big gap, a very different road,” Liu said.

Through the incubator’s mentors and training programs, Liu grew more confident in her business and began pitching to investors. 

FITCI provided NanoBioFAB with a grant advisor to help seek out and apply for grants. Thus, the incubator was directly involved with the company’s partnership with the DHA and WVU. 

“I have watched this company really blossom. They joined FITCI at the very beginning of their journey and it was plain to see, even then, how much of an impact they could make on healthcare,” said Kathie Callahan Brady, CEO of FITCI. “The co-founders, Dr. Xiaonao Liu and Dr. Ruoting Yang, are both passionate and purpose-driven in pushing the limits of this technology because it has the potential to improve so many lives in so many different ways. This is just one example.”

Originally, Liu created the company out of a need she saw in the market for individualized health feedback. After struggling to lose weight after having her son, she developed the idea for a nanosensor that could measure key data points and use them to give personalized feedback to the wearer. 

“We started to develop the smart sensors. The sensor is small, lightweight, smart, wearable, and it can make people exercise smarter and live healthier,” Liu said. “That was our mission for starting NanoBioFAB.”

Liu is hoping to complete one or two more patents on her technology within the coming year, and is also looking to hire. She said people with expertise in the nanotechnology sector are more than welcome to apply or get in touch with the company. 

To learn more about NanoBioFAB, visit their website.