Yao Wu

Yao Wu, a graduate student in Dr. Rebecca Lai’s lab, has been on the forefront of research in chemical biology. Her research is focused on the design and fabrication of folding- and dynamic-based electrochemical biosensors for detection of DNA, metal ions, and cancer treatment in drugs. This has led her to be the lead-author on eight publications, but even with an impressive number of publications, Wu’s career is just getting started.

Her Research          
Wu has developed two reagentless and reusable electrochemical DNA sensors for detection of the k-ras gene, and her findings were published in Analytical Chemistry. These findings will contribute to studies focused on understanding pancreatic and lung cancer and pathogenesis, and they could have an impact on a wide range of biomedical-relevant nucleic acid sequences, as well as point mutations. 

Wu also developed three metal ion sensors for detecting gold, silver, and copper ions. The gold ion sensor can help with mineral exploration and mining, as well as identifying and quantifying gold ion in complex biological and environmental samples. The silver and copper ions could have an impact on environmental monitoring, since the sensors are reagentless, sensitive, specific, and selective enough to be used in realistically complex samples. Wu’s findings were published in the Biotechnology Journal and Analytical Chemistry, respectively.

In another article published in Analytical Chemistry, Wu revealed her development of two sensors for detecting anticancer drugs like cisplatin and satraplatin. Recently, cisplatin has been applied in antitumor treatment, but the treatment has been compromised by cellular resistance and toxic side effects after long-term exposure to the drug. Because of these issues, satraplatin has been explored as an option. The sensors Wu developed could have an impact in this area, as it could be used for real-time analysis of drug metabolism in pharmacokinetics studies.

Currently, Wu has been working to develop a method to employ electrocatalysis to elucidate the fundamental properties of DNA nucleotides and study the reactions between methylene blue and high oxidation state metal ions. She is also working to develop electrochemical aptamer-based (E-AB) sensors suitable for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) analysis.

Research First Experience
Thanks to being afforded the ability to start conducting research during her first semester, Wu's research has led her to be the lead-author on eight publications and co-author on two others. Her work has appeared in Analytical Chemistry, Chemical Communication, Current Nanoscience, and the Biotechnology Journal

“I have accomplished things that I didn’t expect that I could do,” Wu said. “This would not have happened without Dr. Lai. I would like to sincerely acknowledge my advisor for her guidance and trust during my graduate studies. She encouraged me to look at my career in a holistic manner, which not only helped me grow as an experimentalist and a chemist, but also as an instructor and an independent thinker.”

Wu’s success at Nebraska has not come as a surprise to Dr. Lai.

“She is very responsible and mature in her approach to science and her approach to her work,” Lai said. “She is very enjoyable to work with, because she is responsible and very professional about the work.”

Looking to the Future
Wu earned her bachelor’s degree in food science and technology from Shanghai Ocean University and obtained her master’s in biochemical engineering from Shanghai University.  She moved to Nebraska in 2011 to start working on her Ph. D., and she plans to graduate this May. After graduation, she hopes to conduct research and teach at the college level, but she plans to look for a postdoctoral position in the meantime.