Read the article by Chris Slater on WV News.

Photo credit: Chris Slater – WV News


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The name may not slide off the tongue just yet, but NanoBioFAB, a minority woman-owned nanotech startup in the Frederick Innovative Technology Center Inc. is hoping to revolutionize medical mannequins. And, they’re partnering with West Virginia University to try to do so.

The company, which creates million-scale nanomaterial used in applications ranging from routine health monitoring to cancer detection, is working with WVU to improve clinical simulators. The effort, initiated through the Defense Health Agency Small Business Innovation Research program, is underway at NanoBioFAB’s Frederick, Maryland, base of operations, as well as the David and Jo Ann Shaw Center for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety (STEPS) at WVU.

“The goal is to advance the current high throughput inkjet-assisted nano printing and screening (IA-Nano) platform by developing novel nanomaterials to measure pressure and volatile chemical compounds, which aligns perfectly with NanoBioFAB’s core technology,” according to a release.

“Ultimately, the end product will go beyond military and defense applications, raising the bar for medical training simulators worldwide with wireless, low-voltage and low-cost sensors that include matrix flexibility and easy integration.”

Throughout the test period, a variety of NanoBioFAB smart sensors will be installed into the chest, belly, mouth, and extremities of high-fidelity medical mannequins. The sensors will register what a patient would feel during treatment.

Other sensors will simulate certain odors commonly expressed by live bodies that help medical professionals assess illness and formulate possible remedies. This multi-sensory approach bridges the gap between classroom learning and hands-on clinical experience, giving medical students a greater depth of understanding.

STEPS will provide high-fidelity mannequins, simulation rooms, software, expertise, and study participants, to complete the assessment step of their program.

Dr. Xiaonao Liu, who founded the company with her husband Dr. Ruoting Yang in 2016, said they are simply developing small, lightweight, smart, wearable nano sensors to help make people healthier. The idea for their company began after her son was born in 2014.

“I found big changes in my body, and I want to lose weight, and get a good body shape,” Liu said. “I did the research because I’m a PhD, and I found that a lot of women have the same experience. And, my husband, he gained 20 pounds, and we are thinking how do we lose our baby fat?”

It was hard to see the progress initially, so Yang, a data scientist, said they should combine their areas of expertise to develop smart sensors to track their personal physiological status. The ideas grew from there, and took on new forms. As it got bigger, the two needed to expand.

They did not know where to go, or how to write a business plan; Liu said they had no business strategy. The operation that began in their garage was soon moved into a business incubator in Maryland, near where they live. They then became associated with both WVU and Frank Vitale, who runs the Morgantown-based consulting firm Forge Business Solutions.

“We’re focusing on our go-to market strategy, and preparing to build that foundation ordered right now to take their products,” Vitale said in an interview conducted during a break in a business meeting with Liu and Yang.

Their small business research program comes in phases, and one must successfully complete each one to receive more funding.

“They were very successful in phase one, and they were selected among multiple applicants,” Vitale said. “To get to phase two — and not everyone got to phase two for their technology — their work, their reputation got the award, as phase two has particular requirements and we had about 24 months to do the phase two work. So, part of that work is to continue to develop the technology, and then to develop business plan, commercialization and then we can try phase three.”

Both Liu and Yang said they are excited at the opportunity to build a relationship with West Virginia University. Working with STEPS is part of their phase two.

“West Virginia is a very nice place; we didn’t know that before, we thought it was just coal mining,” Yang said. “We saw the new technology happening here, in West Virginia University. We see very, very advanced medical simulators, work with mannequins. We like this kind of environment.”

Part of the next step is building relationships with medical mannequin manufacturers.

“We hope we can integrate our developer sensor into high fidelity medical mannequins,” Liu said. “So, phase three is to commercialize our sensors and sound.”

If all goes according to plan, Liu thinks that around three years from now, they can begin having a commercial product to begin generating revenue.

Liu now has plans to revolutionize the medical industry with nanomaterial, and it all started because she wanted to lose a little pregnancy weight.