Featured Researchers

Feng Li
Department of Chemistry & Centre for Biotechnology

What is the primary focus of your research?
My research lab works at the interface of bioanalytical chemistry and DNA nanotechnology. Our goal is to develop novel analytical tools to address meaningful chemical, biological, and biomedical questions. One current research focus is to develop simple, inexpensive, and portable technologies for rapid disease diagnosis and screening at resource-limited environments, such as patient home, doctor’s office, remote areas, and impoverished countries or regions.

What inspired your research?
My research was inspired by an old Chinese saying that “One must first sharpen their tools if they are to perfect their work”. Also, my favorite molecule is “DNA” and we love to make use of DNA as a unique class of “programmable” material to create new tools and technologies. I am also a big fan of 3D printing. A lot of our ideas in medical device
fabrication have been successfully prototyped using 3D printing.

What were some of your key findings?
Some of the recent achievements in my research lab include 1) the construction of a series of nanosized DNA-based machines that can detect infectious diseases and drug resistances in liquid biopsies such as human serum samples; 2) the fabrication of low-cost, paper-based analytical devices capable of detecting and quantifying genetic disease markers of soil-transmitted helminth infection, a parasitic disease that affects one third of the world’s population; and 3) the development of novel DNA computing elements that can be integrated into large-scale DNA-based artificial neural networks.

What kind of response have you gotten from your study/findings?
Many our research findings have attracted attention from both the research community and the public. Because of our contribution to the analytical research community, I was recognized as one of the “Emerging Investigators in Analytical Sciences” by Analyst (a RSC journal) in 2016 and recently recognized as one of the “Young Investigators in Analytical and Bioanalytical Sciences” by Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (a Springer journal) in 2019. I also received an Ontario Early Research Award in 2018. Some of our research work have been featured in local, national and international media, such as Brock News, Newsweek, Popular Science, Lab Manager and India Today. We have also established extensive research collaborations with researchers nationally and internationally in the fields of chemistry, biology, health science, and biomedical engineering.

What impact do you hope your research will have? Who will benefit?
I hope that we can eventually translate all of our research findings into practically useful technologies that will benefit other researchers and the public. For example, the simple, portable diagnostic platforms current under development in my lab may bring the sophisticated diagnosis currently performed in centralized laboratories to the bedside of the patients, which will effectively reduce the time to treatment and improve the therapeutic outcome.

Any interesting/significant facts that haven’t been covered by the other questions?
Our research program has also led to a health and inspiring training environment. I am very fortunate and proud to have trained and been training a group of very talented students and postdoctoral fellows.