Chen, Silva named senior members of National Academy of Inventors

Hong Chen, Jon Silva, both in biomedical engineering, are honored as rising leaders in their fields

Beth Miller 
Pictured (l – r): Chen and Silva
Pictured (l – r): Chen and Silva

Hong Chen and Jonathan Silva, both faculty members in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, have been named senior members of the National Academy of Inventors. They will be inducted in June 2024.

Chen and Silva are being recognized as academic inventors who are rising leaders in their fields with success in patents, licensing and commercialization and for producing “technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society.” They are among 553 senior members affiliated with NAI member Institutions worldwide.

Chen, associate professor of biomedical engineering and of neurosurgery in the School of Medicine, focuses on medical ultrasound. Her goal is to develop ultrasound technologies for non-invasive diagnosis and treatment of brain diseases, as well as the deepening of our understanding of brain functions.

Chen co-invented the sonobiopsy technology with Eric C. Leuthardt, MD, the Shi Hui Huang Professor of Neurosurgery and a professor of biomedical engineering, of mechanical engineering and of neuroscience. Sonobiopsy uses focused ultrasound to target a precise location in the brain. Once located, the researchers inject microbubbles into the blood that travel to the ultrasound-targeted tissue and pulsate, which safely opens the blood-brain barrier. The temporary openings allow brain-disease-specific biomarkers, such as DNA, RNA and proteins, to pass through the blood-brain barrier and release into the blood. Washington University owns a patent on the sonobiopsy technology.

In 2023, Chen and her team showed the first noninvasive and safe method to induce a torpor-like state by targeting the central nervous system. She and her team published results of successfully inducing a torpor-like state in mice by using ultrasound to stimulate the hypothalamus preoptic area in the brain, which helps to regulate body temperature and metabolism. In addition to the mouse, which naturally goes into torpor, Chen and her team induced torpor in a rat, which does not.

Chen is a member of the Division of Neurotechnology in the Department of Neurosurgery, which focuses on multidisciplinary research to create innovative engineered solutions that can be translated to patients with neurologic diseases.

Silva, professor of biomedical engineering, developed software to provide a holographic display to physicians who perform catheter ablations for arrhythmia. Their system, the first FDA-cleared application of its kind, integrates existing imaging systems to create a real-time 3D holographic interface that provides physicians with a more precise way to deliver cardiac ablation therapy to treat arrhythmia patients. This software was recently tested in humans, and the results showed that physician accuracy was significantly improved with the display. Widespread availability of the system in the United States is expected in 2025.

SentiAR Inc., a company that Silva co-founded, is commercializing the technology. SentiAR technology is based on Silva’s developments at Washington University in St. Louis with Jennifer Silva, MD, a pediatric cardiologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. Washington University licensed the technology from the Silva lab to SentiAR, which is further developing the augmented reality software. SentiAR has funding from the National Institutes of Health as well as St. Louis investment firms Cultivation Capital and BioGenerator.

In 2022 Silva received the Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association, which supports researchers with established records of accomplishments who have shown a commitment to research that supports the American Heart Association’s mission.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

Click on the topics below for more stories in those areas

Back to News