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Eric Pei-Yu Chiou and Hideaki Tsutsui: Personal Notes from the JALA Guest Editor's Chair

Special issues published by the Journal of Biomolecular Screening (JBS) and the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA) represent hallmarks of important achievement by SLAS and its members, especially those whose sweat equity make them such meaningful and memorable successes. Two JALA guest editors share their recent experiences and demonstrate how personal passion fuels the SLAS Spirit of Community.


Together, JALA and JBS address the full spectrum of issues that are mission-critical to laboratory science and technology professionals, enabling them to gain scientific insights, increase productivity, elevate data quality, reduce lab process cycle times and enable experimentation that otherwise would be impossible. JALA focuses on ways in which scientists adapt advancements in translational laboratory science and technology for exploration and experimentation. In direct relation to this, JBS reports how scientists use adapted technology to pursue new therapeutics for unmet medical needs, including assay development, identification of chemical probes and target identification and validation in general. 2015 marks the 20th year of publication for both journals.

The Editor's Choice Collections at JALA Online and JBS Online feature direct links to the 26 special issues that have been published since 1996. Collectively these issues reflect the evolving landscape of laboratory science and technology by focusing on specific topics that at the time were of emerging interest to life science R&D professionals. From "Automation and Cellular Immunology" to "Knowledge from Small-Molecule Screening and Profiling Data," these issues have built a common core of information and ideas that continue to be referenced and cited by researchers around the world.

Answering the Call to Service

When JALA Editor-in-Chief Dean Ho approached Eric Pei-Yu Chiou, Ph.D., and Hideaki Tsutsui, Ph.D., and asked them to consider serving as guest editors for a special issue of JALA on "Advancements in Biomedical Micro/Nano Tools and Technology," it gave these two accomplished early career professionals "a valuable opportunity to collaborate," says Tsutsui. In spite of orbiting each other in the micro/nano field for years and even overlapping for a short time during their doctoral programs at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Chiou and Tsutsui had not worked together until they joined forces to create this special issue.

Chiou, an associate professor for the UCLA Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Tsutsui, an assistant professor for the University of California, Riverside Department of Mechanical Engineering, began by defining a vision for what they thought this special issue could achieve. "Hideaki and I were very excited and we were confident there were enough groups working on the cutting edge of microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip biomedical applications to put together a really strong special issue," says Chiou. "They're very hot topics and everyone, including me, wants to know more about what's being done and how it's being done."

Their original call for papers asked for reviews and original research that focused on novel devices and systems for biomedical applications, especially in terms of biosensors; drug delivery technologies; optofluidics for molecule, cell and fluid manipulation; micro/nanofluidic molecular and cell manipulation; micro/nano device integration; new imaging technologies; and engineered in vitro culture systems.

The next step for Chiou and Tsutsui was to reach out into their personal networks to secure manuscript commitments from authors breaking ground in these fields. "People want to submit papers to journals with good reputations," says Chiou. "JALA is a relatively new journal in terms of MEDLINE indexing, but it has a solid reputation in engineering fields."

"The response was fantastic," says JALA Editor-in-Chief Ho. "We received proposals for so much exciting new research that we decided to publish not one, but two special issues on the topic."

Tsutsui adds they were especially happy to hear from the next generation of scientific leaders, "relatively young groups with fresh ideas and new directions, groups in which the authors were not senior professors, but rather associate or assistant professors, like us."

From Promises to Publication

Nearly a year after the call for papers was issued, the first part of the JALA special issue on "Advancements in Biomedical Micro/Nano Tools and Technology" published in December 2013, presenting a collection of manuscripts that relate to micro/nano platforms and core tools to investigate mammalian cell cultures. The cover features a review manuscript by a team from Pennsylvania State University entitled "Circulating Tumor Cell Enrichment Based on Physical Properties."

The second part published in February 2014, showcasing tools and technology associated with measurement, analyses and delivery. The cover features a review manuscript by a team from UCLA entitled "Modeling Mass Transfer from Carmustine-Loaded Polymeric Implants for Malignant Gliomas."If you want to know what's really going on in the field of micro/nano technology," says Chiou, "these two special issues cover it."

Getting the manuscripts through the review and revision process was a new experience for Chiou and Tsutsui. They divided up the workload based on their personal strengths and research experience. Tsutsui's background in mechanical engineering led him to focus on papers that were more cell related, while Chiou's background in electrical engineering led him to assume oversight of research associated with fabrications and analysis of electrical systems. It was where their backgrounds diverged from the material that Chiou felt he gained the most enrichment. "As a guest editor, you oversee the completion of several reviews of each paper. The process really expands your horizon and you see what's happening outside of your own immediate area of expertise."

The review and revision process required Chiou and Tsutsui's daily attention over a span of about four months and gave them insider perspective on how the peer-review process really works. "I have much more appreciation for the jobs of journal editors and reviewers," says Tsutsui. "I have new respect for what it takes to find willing and appropriate reviewers and for the time it takes from a reviewer's busy schedule to properly review a paper. The volunteer efforts of reviewers are as valuable and important as the authors." Tsutsui also enjoyed developing an online rapport with authors and reviewers, describing their frequent e-mail communiqués as great connecting points for intelligent network building.

Chiou adds that he also gained new appreciation for "the journal's very well organized system and procedures, and the helpful support and guidance that was provided throughout by the journal editor (Ho) and the professional team (SLAS Director of Publishing Nan Hallock). As a frequent reviewer for JALA, I read many exciting articles that relate to my area of research," Chiou continues. "I like the way SLAS is growing. It is clear from the papers Hide and I received and other papers being published by JALA that the micro/nano technology portion of the Society is really thriving." Further evidence would be the growing Micro/Nano Technologies educational track planned for SLAS2015, Feb. 7-11, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Miniscule Solutions Yield Big Success

Chiou has always enjoyed the pursuit of science and technology, a path he has followed since junior high school. "When you think about how things work and arrive at a notion that gives you an 'aha moment,' it's rewarding and enjoyable," he says.

Chiou develops integrated optical and microfluidic systems to accompany micro/nano tools to help medical professionals and biologists manipulate cells. Two research platforms for single-cell analysis developed in Chiou's UCLA laboratory include the Pulse Laser Activated Cell Sorter (PLACS), which uses ultra-fast, short-pulse lasers for cell manipulation, and the Optoelectronic Tweezers (OET), which uses projected optical images to grab and corral tiny particles ranging in size from hundreds of micrometers to tens of nanometers. Recent advances now allow OET to be integrated with microfluidics for high-throughput screening and multistep, single-cell analysis.

"A third application we are working on is cell surgery," says Chiou. "Specifically we deliver something large into the cell without killing it using a photothermal nanoblade." The blade works when light shines through a metallic nanostructure to harvest short, laser-pulse energy and convert it into highly localized and shaped explosive cavitation bubbles that rapidly puncture the cell membrane via high-speed fluidic flows and induced transient shear stress.

The development of these miniscule tools requires persistence, patience and collaboration, says Chiou. "Once you develop an idea that you like, you must stick with it. If you think it's important, keep pushing for it. People may not like it now, but if it's something good, it will eventually be accepted," he says.

In regard to collaboration, Chiou says, "Every project in my lab is some kind of collaborative project with people in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. As I develop biomedical instruments to solve problems for biologists or medical doctors, I need their input. You need to have the right attitude and be patient with the technology you are developing. People need to take time to know each other and understand their needs – that is the most difficult part of this field."

Part of process for Chiou is reserving some thinking time outside the lab, something he likes to do on long trips. "I always get tons of ideas when I travel. I like using drive time and air travel time to mull over ideas – like when I fly to Asia for eight to ten hours to attend a conference. In either case, you are confined to your seat, which is something that forces you to calm down and think," he explains. Chiou experienced particularly prolific idea sessions when he held a position at University of California, Berkeley, and his wife remained at UCLA. "I had to travel six hours to see her, but I actually enjoyed the time in the car. All kinds of crazy ideas started coming out during the drive. While the memory was still fresh, I would write them down when I got to my destination. Now I use my iPhone and take pictures and store thoughts in folders. It's very useful."

After the couple reunited at UCLA and became parents, Chiou found he missed the idea sessions on the highway. He doesn't have as much spare time as he used to have, but he tries to make time for swimming, badminton and tai chi, which help restore his creative thinking.

Out in the Fields with Science

Tsutsui also finds that free time comes at a premium. "Frankly speaking, I don't have time outside of work!" he says, describing how he too shares parenting duties with his wife, an architect who is currently taking time off with the couple's first baby, a eight-month-old son. "She recently graduated and is working toward her license. In the meantime, she is remodeling Japanese restaurants and stores in the area."

When he looks at his son, Tsutsui knows that he may be seeing the next generation of engineers in the family. "My father and grandfather were mechanical engineers, so science and technology flows in the blood, I guess," he says with a laugh. He has always been captured by the inner workings of things. "I got my bachelor's degree at the University of Tokyo in Japan, and had the opportunity there through a student organization to work on motorcycles and cars," he says. "We did racing as well. I like the hands-on experience of working on machines."

Micro/nano technology has always been an interest, as well. "I am fascinated by sophisticated design and the function of nature. Nature's building blocks are on the micro/nano scale," he says. "When I was an undergrad, I was a part of research lab studying how to reduce friction force of air and water flows on surfaces. I studied trees and plants and how they can withstand strong winds. When you look at textures of a leaf, there are interesting patterns. While I didn't use that for my research, it opened my mind to other ideas."

Little did he know how plant leaves might factor into his future. A long proponent of sustainability, Tsutsui decided to pursue agricultural applications on the nanoscale. In his lab, Tsutsui develops tools and technology to fabricate plant-leaf biosensors for food crops such as corn, rice and cassava. A self-inking biosensor stamp detects biotic stress markers, such as toxins, in the plant and displays visual signs to alert farmers so they can quickly identify when and where their crops are in danger. This low-cost, easy-to-use technology is especially important for smallholder farmers in the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa where resources do not exist to buy costly fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to protect their source of food and income.

"I've been able to further work on our biosensors through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE). While I didn't plan this when I started at UC Riverside, I am glad for the opportunity to add this to my job," Tsutsui explains. The opportunity led him to Kenya last year to connect with African scientists to develop the biosensors. "Now we might start developing sensors for other staple crops as well," he says.

Tsutsui's latest work will be reported in the upcoming JALA special issue on "New Developments in Biosensing Technologies," which will be published in 2015. Like all JALA and JBS manuscripts, Tsutsui's new paper will be published ahead-of-print at JALA Online immediately upon its acceptance.

August 11, 2014