Engineering’s Ability To Change the World for the Better

Nobility in Motivation and Pediatric Innovation: Our spotlight on Dr. W. Hong Yeo’s prolific pediatric innovation

Like many others, W. Hong Yeo’s journey into the life sciences has roots in other mechanical disciplines, automotive in his case.

Losing his father to myocardial infarction during his undergraduate studies led him to ask, “Can I use my talent and passion for science that improves health and the human condition?”

Driven by mission, ambition and a passion for science, Dr. Yeo earned his PhD from the Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington – Seattle and is now an Associate Professor and Woodruff Faculty Fellow in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Also, he is the Director of the IEN Center for Human-Centric Interfaces and Engineering at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech.

Describing him as a prolific researcher and innovator as well might be an understatement. His lab – the Bio-Interfaced Translational Nanoengineering Group – has more than 20 funded research projects to its credit and about 40 active members. Clinical partners include Dr. Kevin Maher at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Dr. Scott Kozin at Shriners Children’s Philadelphia, and Dr. Soonmin Lee at Severance Children’s Hospital in Korea. The lab’s research sponsors include multiple entities within the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, NASA, Imlay Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to name just a few.

Among dozens of innovative medical technologies in development, he has at least five to his credit ready for licensing, at least three of which have strong pediatric applications including a “Smart, Wireless Bioelectronic Pacifier for Real-Time Continuous Salivary Electrolyte Monitoring in Infants.”

Flexible soft circuitry and wearable technologies with high potential for pediatric impact

“The pacifier technology is particularly exciting because the current methods for measuring so many indicators for health in NICU patients, including electrolyte concentrations like sodium and potassium for example, rely on blood draws,” Dr Yeo said. “Not only is it difficult to find vessels in babies, it’s horrible for them. This is something we decided and determined we could do something about. Having done so successfully just motivates me and my lab team to strive daily to do more.”

Infants are not simply small adults. Their physiology is highly unique and highly dynamic, yet they possess very little control over their behavior and movement giving miniaturization and flexibility of diagnostics and monitoring devices high potential to improve pediatric care, market dynamics that impede pediatric innovation notwithstanding.

“Bulky sensors and monitors physically connected to separate pieces of equipment at the bedside just won’t or can’t work for so many pediatric patients,” Dr. Yeo said. “This is why so much of our work focuses on soft, tissue-like flexible materials, circuitry and wireless technologies, not bulky devices made of hard plastics with multiple points of connection.

A wearable pediatric stethoscope, wearable sleep monitor, and wearable cardiac monitor are further evidence of the high potential for Dr. Yeo’s research, innovation, design and development for truly novel pediatric technologies.

An example of Dr. Yeo’s wearable stethoscope technology.

Where unmet clinical needs meet excellence in engineering for impact innovation

“Our clinical partners not only bring the unmet clinical needs, the starting point for new endeavors, but the data the team needs to see in order to make innovation with positive impact possible,” he said. “Generating high quality data with our clinical partners is paramount to our success in pediatric technology innovation.

“Every contributor to projects like these has many responsibilities competing for their time, clinicians, engineers, professors and others. And each brings their own valuable insight to the state of what’s needed and a technology’s potential to successfully meet that need. Georgia Tech Pediatrics creates the connections and bring these parties together, along with funding opportunities, without which solutions to these challenges might never be generated, or would, at best, be years behind in their development and patient impact potential.”

Next steps and lessons learned in the pathway to commercialization

Recently, Dr. Yeo has spun up to a startup, biomedical company with a co-founder, Josh Lee who is a graduate research assistant in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, to push his wearable health monitors farther forward in the commercialization pathway including next steps and funding for regulatory clearances, manufacturing transfer, translation and scalability.

W. Hong Yeo, PhD (Image credit: Georgia Tech)

“I knew very little about the commercialization pathway, IP needs, freedom to operate, market analysis and strategies before launching the startups,” Dr. Yeo said. “Early focus on the unmet clinical needs, market analysis and IP availability including competitive technologies you may not know exist helps ensure time and funding are not wasted repeating work or running into a dead end.

“Whether in the clinic, our lab or in other engagements with partners, the potential to change the world for the better is a strong motivator. I know this and I see it in my students in the classroom and the lab every single day.”

We thank Dr. Yeo for sharing his story with us. If you are active on Twitter, we recommend giving him and his group’s work a follow. 

If you would like to know more about Dr. Yeo’s work, about who we are, what we do, how we do it and how you can get involved, contact Assistant Director, Research Administration and Operations Sheri Russell: