Lucia Yuan’s success is as fluorescent as her research

Second-year doctoral chemistry student Lucia Yuan’s interest in polymeric materials began when she was introduced to the topic in high school. Since then, she’s been gripped by their versatility, functionality and prevalence in our daily lives. 

Lucia Yuan

Now, her doctoral research is challenging the way materials are contemporarily used in medical practice. Her work earned Yuan a “most creative” award at the 2023 IGNITE event for her presentation on fluorescent polymeric viscoelastics research.

Importance of polymers in relevant treatments
Polymers are frequently used in combating cataracts, a common and persisting health risk. 

Cataracts affect over 50% of the elderly in the United States, and the only effective treatment is surgery,” she explained.

Viscous liquids are used during surgery to protect the cornea but the liquids’ transparency can result in potential blockages in the eye’s drainage system and lead to subsequent blindness.

Yuan and her advisor, Assistant Professor Metin Karayilan, saw room for necessary improvement. Increasing patient safety became the motivation for their innovation in biomedical applications.

The bright idea of fluorescence
The title of “most creative” award was not surprising, as Yuan and Karayilan are the first to attempt the synthesis of fluorescent viscous liquids for cataract surgery.

Metin Karayilan

With Karayilan’s original proposal and Yuan’s diligent collaboration, they’ve created substances that are visible to the naked eye, allowing for their complete removal. Yuan is using the data collected to evaluate

materials to find one that is both closest in viscosity to the transparent liquids, and highest in its fluorescent intensity.

“The nature of challenges posed by traditional viscoelastics might require collaboration of material scientists, chemists and medical professionals that previous research efforts lacked,” said Yuan, “Interdisciplinary approaches are crucial for driving innovative solutions.”

IGNITE victory’s impact toward future goals
Just as the IGNITE was able to bring Yuan’s innovation to light, she is excited to continue bringing attention to the issues arising from current surgical practices as well as the new biomaterials that can improve the lives of patients. 

“This recognition boosts my research’s visibility and showcases its relevance to a broader audience,” Yuan said. “It indicates that my work is noteworthy and has impacted the community.”

With a provisional patent already on the way, Yuan expects her research to be a catalyst for improving public health. 

“Lucia is very driven while also possessing strong collaborative characteristics,” said Karayilan. “In my lab, she has laid the groundwork of the research, and I have no doubt that her future path will be filled with exciting achievements.”