Professor Sei Kwang Hahn (Materials Science & Engineering)
While we often say that the eyes are the window of the soul, they can also be the window of disease detection since the eyes and tears contain a wide array of substances that indicate the status of human organs. For instance, measuring the glucose concentration in a person’s tears can help identify their blood glucose level to diagnose diabetes.
The Biomedical Nanomaterials Lab, led by Professor Sei Kwang Hahn in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, POSTECH, was inspired by this knowledge to develop smart contact lenses that can simply be worn on the eyes to diagnose diabetes. These lenses go beyond diagnostics and can administer prompt follow-up treatment by releasing the loaded drug. In April 2020, the Lab published these research findings on the smart contact lenses in Science Advances and Nature Reviews Materials, internationally-renowned world top journals.
Smart contact lenses are medical devices that contain printed electric circuits functioning as sensors. As the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety decided last November to establish guidelines to recognize smart contact lenses as medical devices, there has been a growing expectation that they be commercialized. The smart contact lenses developed by the Biomedical Nanomaterials Lab support drug delivery and wireless power transmission technology, taking a step closer to commercialization. Furthermore, the Lab has developed smart contact lenses equipped with intraocular pressure sensors to measure such pressure for the treatment of glaucoma.
The nano materials are based on the scale of the nanometer metrics, which is one billionth of a meter. The Lab is focused on the research of nano medicine that harnesses the power of nano materials for both diagnostics and therapeutics. While smart contact lenses perform diagnoses, this is followed by the therapeutic application of nano motors that deliver the drug to the target organ and of hydrogel technology that protects therapeutic cells for an extended period of time.
Normally, the efficiency of drug delivery declines in the bladder as drug molecules are excreted in the urine during their diffusion. The Lab’s solution to this challenge was to develop urease-powered nanomotors: these motors are powered by the gas generated through the conversion of urea into carbon dioxide and ammonia in the bladder to penetrate into the bladder wall and facilitate their prolonged retention in the bladder as a drug carrier.
The Lab also endeavors to translate its research outcomes into products. Professor Hahn founded ‘PHI BIOMED’ as a research-driven bio company in 2014 and is fully committed to commercializing smart contact lenses. The excellence of the Lab’s research findings generated through the multi-disciplinary approach is recognized broadly: the Lab was honored with the Grand Prize at the Industry-Academia Cooperation Competition 2013, the Presidential Award at the Korea Invention and Patent Awards 2015, and the Minister of Health and Welfare Award in the healthcare technology sector by the Korean government in 2017.
Head of Lab