StabiLux gets sizable funding from NSF for special dye design

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Yoke Khin Yap's company StabiLux Biosciences received $650,000 in funding, one of only nine companies in the nation.

HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech physics professor Yoke Khin Yap has brightened the future of medical research.

Yap’s company, StabiLux Biosciences, is creating a type of fluorescent dye molecule 10 times brighter than anything previously on the market. For his efforts, Yap has just received $650,000 in funding from NSF-STTR phase II to commercialize his creation.

“I don’t want to keep this in my lab or just publish a paper and end up in a bookshelf, it’s not going anywhere else and this is not what I want to see…They (research discoveries) should become something mature and go out the door,” Yap said.

Yap’s fluorescent dyes are used for flow cytometry, a research method that takes molecules and reads them using lasers. Each color identifies a different type of cell or molecule and the data is then analyzed. Flow cytometry is often used to cure HIV and blood cancer or for cancer and stem cell research. This technology has long been in use but there were issues with identifying smaller cell populations, Yap explained. 

“That gave us all kinds of trouble,” Yap said. “You just can’t count it correctly and even if they are there you can’t tell.” Yap’s creation can differentiate those cells far easier, can tune signal brightness and ensure different molecules emit a particular color. Manufacturers are very eager to get this improvement out to researchers, Yap said.

StabiLux has been working for years to reach this point. “The government isn’t going to give you money for whatever you say,” Yap said. StabiLux had to pass numerous market and feasibility tests to prove itself worthy of funding.

StabiLux is one of only nine companies in the nation that received funding this year. “That is pretty exciting,” Yap said. Next up is preparing to put the product on the market. 

“We have to run very comprehensive tests to identify…the operation scope or measurement scope that it will work perfectly so that this becomes our product specification,” Yap said. 

“Stabilux is a model of success for university technology commercialization, which involves committed teamwork between a researcher passionate about taking their discoveries to the market and the experience of the staff in Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement as well as our external mentors,” said Executive Director of Innovation and Industry Engagement, Jim Baker. 

According to Yap, Michigan Tech has been a crucial part of his success. With the university encouraging technology commercialization, innovation is actively supported. In fact, a portion of what StabiLux earns will return to the program to fund future research. “It’s an ecosystem, a cycle,” Yap said.