Inventor of the Year makes better, faster, cheaper antibodies

Brian Kay; Inventor of the year

Brian Kay is a “process-oriented” scientist. ­(Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin)

Each year, the Office of Technology Management celebrates UIC faculty inventors. The Innovator of the Year Award recognizes researchers who have advanced their inventions toward commercialization. The Inventor of the Year Award honors researchers whose discoveries have the potential for significant impact. The awards include a $3,500 prize and a plaque, which is prominently displayed in the hallway of the UIC Office of Technology Management.

For Brian Kay, the thrill of science isn’t just in finding the solution to a problem. The process of getting there is just as exciting.

“I like thinking of elegant solutions to problems,” said Kay, professor of biological sciences. “Scientists are often result-oriented, but I’m also process-oriented.”

Kay, who uses new approaches to study antibodies, has developed four technologies within four years that could revolutionize his field. For his work, Kay was named the 2015 UIC Inventor of the Year by the Office of Technology Management. The award is given to a researcher who has made contributions to the development of intellectual property at UIC that have the potential to make a significant impact.

“At heart, I’m a technologist,” Kay said. “I’ve always thought of myself as being an inventor and a scholar, so it was very nice to be recognized in that respect.”

Kay’s work focuses on antibodies, which are produced by the body’s immune system to fight bacteria and viruses. His work aims to discover ways to replace antibodies that are made in animals with new techniques that could be made in a laboratory. Traditionally, antibodies are made by immunizing a mouse or rabbit, then harvesting the antibodies from their blood. It often takes two or three months to generate rabbit or mouse antibodies for each protein.

“That’s a very tried-and-true method,” Kay said. “It works well, but there are some problems. The antibodies are heterogeneous and not renewable, so you are limited in what you can do.”

In 2011, Kay received a four-year, $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research. He created four inventions during the grant period that employ protein engineering and molecular biology to make antibodies that are better, faster and cheaper. One invention has a patent and three have patents pending.

His work could be applied to identify emerging diseases or develop therapeutics.

“The technology could allow for a test of the Zika virus or another emerging disease quickly, so you could have on-demand quality and generate reagents for an emerging disease,” he said.

“The work could also be used long-term in generating therapeutics. Antibodies could be injected into patients to treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.”

Kay was recognized for his inventions during a ceremony in June in Student Center East.

“There are a lot of smart people here at UIC, so to get a little attention is humbling and gratifying,” he said.

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