Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Richard C. Willson, Ph.D.

Richard C. Willson, Ph.D.

Richard C. Willson, Ph.D.

Senior Affiliate Member
The Methodist Hospital Research Institute

Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Professor of Biochemical & Biophysical Sciences
University of Houston

E-mail: willson@uh.edu
Phone: 713-743-4308
Fax: 713-743-4323


B.S.   Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
M.S.   Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
Ph.D.   Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Postdoctoral Training

Theme Leader, Diagnostics, NIH Western Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases
International Society for Molecular Recognition (Program of 2005 and 2007 meetings)



After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Willson joined the University of Houston as an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1988. He became Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in 1993 and by 2003 he was full professor of both Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry. He is on the editorial board of several peer-reviewed journals and continuously mentors and trains undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. Prof. Willson has been co-founder of three companies based on technology developed in academic institutions, and has 15 patents licensed to industry. He was awarded the prestigious van Lanen Award in 2001 by the American Chemical Society and is currently the president of the International Society for Molecular Recognition. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and in 2005 he received the Senior Faculty Research Excellence Award from the College of Engineering at the University of Houston.

Description of Research

Richard Willson´s laboratory works on biomolecular recognition, and its applications in separations and molecular diagnostics. Professor Willson is interested in the structural determinants of molecular recognition in complexes of proteins with recognition agents such as monoclonal antibodies and aptamers. The primary techniques used in the laboratory are expression, mutagenesis, fluorescence anisotropy (kinetics), and titration calorimetry. Topics of current interest include the recognition of hen egg lysozyme by a ´homologous series´ of antibodies differing in combining site rigidity and cross-reactivity (with S. Smith-Gill of NIH), and the biophysical chemistry of aptamer/protein recognition (with A. Ellington of UT-Austin).

A second main focus of the lab is the formulation of novel molecular diagnostics and sensors. Professor Willson´s group, in collaboration with UH´s George E. Fox (co-discoverer of the Archaea), is funded by NASA´s National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The project centers on the development of molecular labels and computationally-derived probes for organisms of interest to crew health in long-duration space flight. The Fox lab identifies signature sequences associated with different regions of the phylogenetic tree, and an array of probes is developed that would allow approximate classification of nearly any organism independent of prior identification. Other applications of the technology include terrestrial infectious disease diagnosis and biodefense.

Professor Willson´s group is also collaborating with Dr. Paul Ruchhoeft in the UH Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering to design 1- micron retroreflectors to enable the ultra-sensitive detection of a label bound to a target or reporter molecule to detect an analyte or other binding event. These 1-micron cubic retroreflectors will be used as labels in 1-step assays based on self-assembly. For a complete summary of current research projects in the Willson lab, please see the Willson home page at the University of Houston http://www.chee.uh.edu/faculty/willson/.

Major Areas of Research

Molecular diagnostics, molecular labels, affinity separation, sensors

Recent Publications

Litvinov J, Wang YJ, George J, Chinwangso P, Brankovic S, Willson RC, Litvinov D. Development of Pinhole-Free Amorphous Aluminum Oxide Protective Layers for Biomedical Device Applications. Surf Coat Technol. 2013 Jun 15;224:101-108. PMID: 23682201

Kanakaraj I, Chen WH, Poongavanam M, Dhamane S, Stagg LJ, Ladbury JE, Kourentzi K, Strych U, Willson RC. Biophysical characterization of VEGF-aHt DNA aptamer interactions. Int J Biol Macromol. 2013 Jun;57:69-75. PMID: 23470436

Cacao EE, Nasrullah A, Sherlock T, Kemper S, Kourentzi K, Ruchhoeft P, Stein GE, Willson RC. High-Resolution, High-Throughput, Positive-Tone Patterning of Poly(ethylene glycol) by Helium Beam Exposure through Stencil Masks. PLoS One. 2013 May 24;8(5):e56835. PMID: 23717382

Vu BV, Anthony KL, Strych U, Willson RC. Recovery of small DNA fragments from serum using compaction precipitation. PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51863. PMID: 23284792

Pollet J, Strych U, Willson RC. A peroxidase-active aptazyme as an isothermally amplifiable label in an aptazyme-linked oligonucleotide assay for low-picomolar IgE detection. Analyst. 2012 Dec 21;137(24):5710-2. PMID: 23103946

Jackson GW, McNichols RJ, Fox GE, and Willson RC. (2007 ) Universal bacterial identification by mass spectrometry of 16S ribosomal RNA cleavage products. Int J Mass Spectrom 261: 218-226.

Cano T, Offringa N, Willson RC. (2007)The effectiveness of three multi-component binding models in describing the binary competitive equilibrium adsorption of two cytochrome b(5) mutants. J Chromatogr A 1144:197-202.

Svitel J, Boukari H, Van Ryk D, Willson RC, Schuck P. (2007) Probing the functional heterogeneity of surface binding sites by analysis of experimental binding traces and the effect of mass transport limitation. Biophys J 92:1742-58.

Jackson GW, McNichols RJ, Fox GE, Willson RC. (2006) Bacterial genotyping by 16S rRNA mass cataloging. BMC Bioinformatics 7:321.

Fu JY, Potty AS, Fox GE, Willson RC. (2006) Water-elutability of nucleic acids from metal-chelate affinity adsorbents: enhancement by control of surface charge density. J Mol Recognit 19:348-53.

Putonti C, Chumakov S, Mitra R, Fox GE, Willson RC, and Fofanov Y. (2006) Human-blind probes and primers for dengue virus identification. FEBS J. 273:398-408.