Young Scientist of the Month: Onur Mudanyali

1) Would you please tell us about yourself and your journey that led to become a scholar?

When I was around 4, my dad started to teach me simple math and physics basics as if we were playing games. This really helped me to rapidly grasp the fundamentals at early age. I did not make any deliberate plans for the college and attended Istanbul Technical University (ITU) to study Electronics and Communications Engineering. It turned out to be an amazing experience and could not be better. In my senior year, I was involved in the research projects directed by Prof. Ibrahim Akduman and Prof. Ali Yapar who were great role models and influenced me to become a researcher. After receiving my MSc degree, although it was very tempting to stay at ITU, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and explore other opportunities at different settings.

I received a generous international PhD fellowship from The Council of Higher Education of the Republic of Turkey (YOK) and  joined University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to work with Prof. Aydogan Ozcan who had very attractive and stimulating research interests. Under his supervision, I have developed miniaturized optical imaging systems and telemedicine applications to mitigate some of the global health challenges. I collaborated with scientists, physicians and industry professionals around the world and was lucky to be exposed to interdisciplinary ‘problems’ of medical diagnostics at point of care (POC) and resource scarce environments. Towards to end of the graduate school, I decided to focus on the ‘translational’ side of the research and develop successful products that can be used for better and less expensive healthcare delivery. In order to pursue my goal, I joined Cellmic (previously known as Holomic) where I have been serving as the Director of Engineering.

2) Tell us about your research and how it is related to everyday life of other fields.

I am very interested on smart medical systems and practical engineering solutions to global health problems and my research relies on leveraging state-of-art mobile electronics, their computational power and internet access to design miniaturized and connected medical devices.

During my time at UCLA, I was instrumental on the development of several computational imaging and microscopy methods based on lensfree holographic microscopy. Utilizing some of these mobile microscopes, we were able to image single viruses and nano particles (< 100nm) across a field of view (FOV) of >20 mm2. We verified these results with a bright-field microscope lens with a high numerical aperture (NA>1.25) and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) that have orders of magnitude smaller imaging area than the FOV of our system. It was the first time that sub-100 nm objects were imaged using a field-portable imaging system with such throughput. Beside this work, I also contributed to the other variations and applications of the same platform such as water quality analysis, CD-4/CD-8 T-cell analysis and malaria screening in developing countries.

At Cellmic, we currently focus on the development of 'Digital Assay Solutions’ platform including mobile assay analyzers, assay development and management software and secure cloud services for real-time mapping of epidemics and health conditions. Commercially available immunoassays, especially rapid diagnostics tests, offer unprecedented advantages such as low cost, simplicity and fast turnaround times for decentralized or point-of-care testing. In recent years, there have been a significant growth in the market with products introduced for the testing various infectious diseases (i.e., Ebola, Zika virus) and other conditions such as drug abuse, cardiac and thyroid problems. However, these disposable ancillary tools could not penetrate into the public health endeavors due to their limited performance when compared to the standard laboratory testing and clinical examination. To eliminate this limitation, we have introduced a universal and mobile imaging toolset to record optically enhanced images of immunoassays and analyze them using a smartphone application. Users are able to generate quantitative test results with ’trans-visual’ sensitivity and highest accuracy beyond the ability of human vision and other competitor assay analysis systems. Moreover, integrated into HIPAA-compliant servers, test results can be uploaded to a secure database and remotely accessed through our web servers for real-time mapping on Google maps. In other words, we offer an all-in-one solution to the IVD market for the first time to benefit from the mobile revolution and transform their businesses.

We have so far received very encouraging feedback from customers worldwide and also received very generous support from NIH, DoD, NASA, NIAID, and NSF through SBIR grants and contracts.

3) What do you consider important to your success? Tell us about any skills or habits that you think helped you to become a successful scholar at such a young age.

It is a cliché but you really need to love what you do even during crunchy times to become successful. The persistence and awareness are other crucial elements. Most of the time, we focus on the final goals rather than the journey itself such that we often miss the details and lose our motivation during the hustle of daily life. I also believe that the balance between the various aspects of life is the key to happiness which leads to the success, so I also try to keep a good work-life balance.

4) What are your immediate and long term goals for the future? 

I want to create better, affordable and high-performance medical diagnostics technologies that can be approved and deployed to the hospitals, doctor's offices, public venues and eventually individual homes such that we can partially relieve the burden on the healthcare systems and improve the well-being and public health.

5) What do you recommend to aspiring scholars, or to young Turkish scientists/scholars who are at the beginning of their careers?

In my humble opinion, nothing is achieved by luck and we create our own opportunities by working hard and staying disciplined.

6) Could you please tell us about your life outside of your work? Do you have hobbies? What are your favorite activities? If you recommend a book, what would that be and why?

I live in Los Angeles with my lovely wife. LA is culturally and gastronomically very rich so we try to take advantage of it as much as possible. Also the weather cannot be better. I enjoy paddle-boarding, rowing, and biking on the beach all year around. Besides the traffic, there is nothing to complain about this city. Lately, I have been listening 'Why Nations Fail' written by Prof. Daron Acemoglu. It is just an amazing resource, giving you an objective perspective of world history, politics and economics.

Onur Mudanyali is currently the Director of Engineering at the Cellmic LLC.