Hisey’s cancer diagnostics research leads to NIH award

Posted: January 16, 2023
Colin Hisey (headshot)
Colin Hisey

Colin Hisey, a LEGACY Postdoctoral Scholar at The Ohio State University, has earned a prestigious National Institutes of Health award to pursue his research focused on the role extracellular vesicles and machine learning may play in ovarian cancer detection.

The MOSAIC (Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers) K99/R00 award is intended to help postdoctoral researchers transition into independent careers while enhancing diversity within the academic biomedical research workforce.

The $947,000 award will support Hisey’s project titled, “Machine Learning-enabled Classification of Extracellular Vesicles Using Nanoplasmonic Microfluidics” for up to five years, including his first three years as an assistant professor. As part of the award, he will also join a cohort of other MOSAIC scholars and participate in professional development activities through the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Ovarian cancer is a major public health issue that is often diagnosed in later stages, resulting in an increased risk of patient death. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are nanoscale particles that circulate throughout bodily fluids and are released by all cells, and their cargo may indicate early signs of ovarian cancer or inform better treatment strategies, according to Hisey.

His proposed training and research will create improved methods for characterizing and classifying extracellular vesicles to improve patient outcomes by developing ultrasensitive detection devices and machine learning analytical tools.

“I think that EVs are truly fascinating, but they can be difficult to study due to their inherent heterogeneity and often low abundance,” said Hisey. “By combining ultrasensitive surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy with deep learning, I think we can overcome these obstacles to ultimately improve our understanding of EVs in disease progression and their potential use as biomarkers or therapeutics.”

During the initial K99 phase, the MOSAIC award will support Hisey’s extensive training in Raman spectroscopy and deep learning, and development of his skillsets in micro-nanofabrication and EV research. Later in the independent R00 phase, the award will help him establish his independent lab and push his technology toward clinical translation.

“This award has been a goal of mine for years, so it’s really a dream come true,” he said. “It feels like validation of all the hard work that I’ve done, particularly as a postdoc, and of the vision set out by Dean Ayanna Howard and Dr. Monica Cox for the LEGACY program. It also means that my long-term goal of becoming a tenure-track assistant professor and building my own research program will happen soon and that I’ll be well-supported once I make that transition.”

Hisey earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at University of Dayton where he was part of the Multi-Ethnic Engineers Program. His early exposure to nanomaterials research and medicine led to him pursue his PhD in biomedical engineering at Ohio State, where he developed microfluidic devices for cancer engineering applications. During his doctoral program, he was also a Whitaker International Fellow at CEIT in Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain. He then helped create and run the Hub for Extracellular Vesicle Investigations at the University of Auckland in New Zealand before returning to Ohio State to join the inaugural cohort of the LEGACY Postdoctoral Scholars Program.

Hisey has remained committed to promoting diversity throughout his career by volunteering at engineering summer camps for minoritized students, mentoring several underrepresented students and giving guest lectures on biomedical engineering from his unique perspective as a biracial scholar.

“I’m thrilled to bring this award to my home state of Ohio, where I was born, raised and received all of my formal education,” Hisey added. “In the future, I hope that other people from similar backgrounds will be less intimidated by this award’s application process and this career path.”

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu