Portrait of Stephanie McCalla

Stephanie McCalla

Stephanie McCalla, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in MSU's Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, has received the Vice President for Research Meritorious Technology/Science Award. Given to a person whose significant contribution to science and technology has the potential to transfer to the private sector, the award comes with a $2,500 honorarium.

McCalla, who received the National Science Foundation's prestigious $500,000 CAREER award in 2019, is a recognized expert in the engineering of biochemical reactions for medical diagnosis. By amplifying the biochemical signal of molecules such as genetic material associated with cancer, traumatic brain injury and other medical conditions, the technology enables rapid and early detection before symptoms emerge.

Missoula-based FYR Diagnostics is among the companies that have helped to put McCalla's research into practice. A licensing agreement in 2018 enabled the company to apply a technology called Ultrasensitive DNA Amplification Reaction, or UDAR, that McCalla developed with Tomas Gedeon, professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in MSU's College of Letters and Science. The company is using UDAR to develop diagnostic tools for cancers, neurodegenerative conditions and other diseases in humans as well as crop and livestock diseases.

UDAR "demonstrates a dramatic leap forward in the development of new diagnostics tools," wrote Sarjubhai Patel, president and co-founder of FYR Diagnostics, in his nomination letter. He noted that McCalla's "drive to advance her leading-edge research to commercialization and impact many lives" makes her an ideal candidate for the award.

In another example, McCalla's work with an undergraduate student working in her lab, Pablo Martínez Cruz, led to them developing a microscope technology that could control the temperature of fluid samples over a wider range and with a faster response time. Cruz, who earned his bachelor's in biomedical engineering from MSU, has collaborated with McCalla to start a company called ThermaOptix that is commercializing the tool and testing it in other labs.

Quinton King, senior technology manager in MSU's Technology Transfer Office, noted McCalla's "focus on delivering meaningful impacts for public benefit" which has led to "innovative and direct solutions for real-world problems."