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Richard C. Willson, PhD

Full Affiliate Member, Research Institute
Houston Methodist


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

Areas Of Expertise

Molecular diagnostics Molecular labels Affinity separation Sensors
Education & Training

MS, California Institute of Technology
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A multicolor multiplex lateral flow assay for high-sensitivity analyte detection using persistent luminescent nanophosphors
Danthanarayana, AN, Finley, E, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Willson, RC & Brgoch, J 2020, Analytical Methods, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 272-280.

The complete genome sequence of the nitrile biocatalyst Rhodocccus rhodochrous ATCC BAA-870
Frederick, J, Hennessy, F, Horn, U, De La Torre Cortés, P, Van Den Broek, M, Strych, U, Willson, RC, Hefer, CA, Daran, JMG, Sewell, T, Otten, LG & Brady, D 2020, BMC genomics, vol. 21, no. 1, 3.

PCB-based magnetometer as a platform for quantification of lateral-flow assays
Khodadadi, M, Chang, L, Trabuco, JRC, Vu, BV, Kourentzi, K, Willson, RC & Litvinov, D 2019, Sensors (Switzerland), vol. 19, no. 24, 5433.

Continuous aqueous two-phase extraction of microalgal C-phycocyanin using a coiled flow inverter
Ruiz-Ruiz, F, López-Guajardo, E, Vázquez-Villegas, P, del Angel-Chong, ME, Nigam, KDP, Willson, RC & Rito-Palomares, M 2019, Chemical Engineering and Processing - Process Intensification, vol. 142, 107554.

Correction: Enhancement of lateral flow assay performance by electromagnetic relocation of reporter particles (PLoS One (2018) 13:1 (e0186782) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186782)
Jacinto, MJ, Trabuco, JRC, Vu, BV, Garvey, G, Khodadadi, M, Azevedo, AM, Aires-Barros, MR, Chang, L, Kourentzi, K, Litvinov, D & Willson, RC 2019, PloS one, vol. 14, no. 3, e0213859.

Corrigendum: Akkermansia muciniphila as a Model Case for the Development of an Improved Quantitative RPA Microbiome Assay
Goux, HJ, Chavan, D, Crum, M, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2019, Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology, vol. 9.

Evaluation of a nanophosphor lateral-flow assay for self-testing for herpes simplex virus type 2 seropositivity
Goux, HJ, Raja, B, Kourentzi, K, Trabuco, JRC, Vu, BV, Paterson, AS, Kirkpatrick, A, Townsend, B, Lee, M, Truong, VTT, Pedroza, C & Willson, RC 2019, PloS one, vol. 14, no. 12, e0225365.

Nanoparticle-Based Proximity Ligation Assay for Ultrasensitive, Quantitative Detection of Protein Biomarkers
Chen, H, Crum, M, Chavan, D, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2018, ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, vol. 10, no. 38, pp. 31845-31849.

Monte Carlo economic analysis of Baker's yeast invertase purification using two- and three-phase partitioning
Torres-Acosta, MA, Morales-Guzman, SI, Ruiz-Ruiz, F, Vazquez-Villegas, P, Willson, RC & Rito-Palomares, M 2018, Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology, vol. 93, no. 9, pp. 2511-2517.

Akkermansia muciniphila as a model case for the development of an improved quantitative RPA microbiome assay
Goux, HJ, Chavan, D, Crum, M, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2018, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, vol. 8, no. JUL, 237.

Poly(sodium 4-styrenesulfonate) Stabilized Janus Nanosheets in Brine with Retained Amphiphilicity
Luo, D, Wang, F, Chen, J, Zhang, F, Yu, L, Wang, D, Willson, RC, Yang, Z & Ren, Z 2018, Langmuir, vol. 34, no. 12, pp. 3694-3700.

M13 bacteriophage purification using poly(ionic liquids) as alternative separation matrices
Jacinto, MJ, Patinha, DJS, Marrucho, IM, Gonçalves, J, Willson, RC, Azevedo, AM & Aires-Barros, MR 2018, Journal of Chromatography A, vol. 1532, pp. 246-250.

Synthesis of graphene-based amphiphilic Janus nanosheets via manipulation of hydrogen bonding
Luo, D, Wang, F, Vu, BV, Chen, J, Bao, J, Cai, D, Willson, RC & Ren, Z 2018, Carbon, vol. 126, pp. 105-110.

Enhancement of lateral flow assay performance by electromagnetic relocation of reporter particles
Jacinto, MJ, Trabuco, JRC, Vu, BV, Garvey, G, Khodadady, M, Azevedo, AM, Aires-Barros, MR, Chang, L, Kourentzi, K, Litvinov, D & Willson, RC 2018, PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 1, e0186782.

Spin-Valve based magnetoresistive nanoparticle detector for applications in biosensing
Qiu, W, Chang, L, Liang, YC, Litvinov, J, Guo, J, Chen, YT, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Xu, S, Lee, TR, Zu, Y, Willson, RC & Litvinov, D 2017, Sensors and Actuators, A: Physical, vol. 265, pp. 174-180.

Competitive multicomponent anion exchange adsorption of proteins at the single molecule level
Kisley, L, Patil, U, Dhamane, S, Kourentzi, K, Tauzin, LJ, Willson, RC & Landes, CF 2017, Analyst, vol. 142, no. 17, pp. 3127-3131.

Development of a panel of recombinase polymerase amplification assays for detection of common bacterial urinary tract infection pathogens
Raja, B, Goux, HJ, Marapadaga, A, Rajagopalan, S, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2017, Journal of Applied Microbiology, vol. 123, no. 2, pp. 544-555.

Ultrasensitive magnetic nanoparticle detector for biosensor applications
Liang, YC, Chang, L, Qiu, W, Kolhatkar, AG, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Lee, TR, Zu, Y, Willson, RC & Litvinov, D 2017, Sensors (Switzerland), vol. 17, no. 6, 1296.

Colloidal Stability of Graphene-Based Amphiphilic Janus Nanosheet Fluid
Luo, D, Wang, F, Alam, MK, Yu, F, Mishra, IK, Bao, J, Willson, RC & Ren, Z 2017, Chemistry of Materials, vol. 29, no. 8, pp. 3454-3460.

Increasing Binding Efficiency via Reporter Shape and Flux in a Viral Nanoparticle Lateral-Flow Assay
Kim, J, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Willson, RC & Conrad, JC 2017, ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, vol. 9, no. 8, pp. 6878-6884.

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