Richard C. Willson

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

Enzymatic depletion of circulating glutamine is immunosuppressive in cancers
Kumar, M, Leekha, A, Nandy, S, Kulkarni, R, Martinez-Paniagua, M, Rahman Sefat, KMS, Willson, RC & Varadarajan, N 2024, , iScience, vol. 27, no. 6, 109817, pp. 109817.

Accelerated Development of a COVID-19 Lateral Flow Test in an Academic Setting: Lessons Learned
Kourentzi, K, Brosamer, K, Vu, B & Willson, RC 2024, , Accounts of Chemical Research, vol. 57, no. 9, pp. 1372-1383.

Assessing the Cardioprotective Effects of Exogenous Hormone Administration in a Post-Myocardial Infarction Female Rat Model
Eversole, E, Fallon, B, Bowden, M, Naegele, F, Martino, A, Lu, AJ, Schmidt, SM, Willson, RC, Bhimaraj, A, Youker, KA & Filgueira, CS 2024, , University of Houston College of Pharmacy Clinical and Translational Research Symposium, Houston, United States, 4/26/24.

Advancing Clinical Epicardial Imaging: 3D-Printed Ultrasound Transducer Adaptor for Cardiac Motion Control
Martino, A, Vishwanath, K, Brero, G, Fallon, B, Willson, RC, Mathuria, N, Bouchard, R & Filgueira, CS 2024, , University of Houston College of Pharmacy Clinical and Translational Research Symposium, Houston, United States, 4/26/24.

The efficient synthesis and purification of 2'3’- cGAMP from Escherichia coli
Kulkarni, R, Maranholkar, V, Nguyen, N, Cirino, PC, Willson, RC & Varadarajan, N 2024, , Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 15, 1345617.

Navigating the Challenges of Initiating Pediatric Device Trials – A Case Study
Brandon Hunter, R, Willson, RC, Haridas, B, Luk, C, Toman, K, Heffernan, MJ, Fischer, G, Wettergreen, M & Koh, CJ 2024, , Journal of Clinical and Translational Science.

Seroprevalence of hepatitis E virus (HEV) among male craft and manual workers in Qatar (2020–2021)
Younes, N, Yassine, HM, Nizamuddin, PB, Kourentzi, K, Tang, P, Ayoub, HH, Khalili, M, Coyle, PV, Litvinov, D, Willson, RC, Abu-Raddad, LJ & Nasrallah, GK 2023, , Heliyon, vol. 9, no. 11, e21404, pp. e21404.

“Glow ELISA”: sensitive immunoassay with minimal equipment and stable reagents
Vu, BV, Brosamer, K, McDaniel, N, Kourentzi, K, Willson, RC & Fernando, H 2023, , Analyst, vol. 148, no. 22, pp. 5582-5587.

A simple agglutination system for rapid antigen detection from large sample volumes with enhanced sensitivity
Wang, Q, Panpradist, N, Kotnik, JH, Willson, RC, Kourentzi, K, Chau, ZL, Liu, JK, Lutz, BR & Lai, JJ 2023, , Analytica Chimica Acta, vol. 1277, 341674.

Smartphone-readable RPA-LFA for the highsensitivity detection of Leishmania kDNA using nanophosphor reporters
Danthanarayana, AN, Nandy, S, Kourentzi, K, Vu, B, Shelite, TR, Travi, BL, Brgoch, J & Willson, RC 2023, , PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, vol. 17, no. 7 July, e0011436, pp. e0011436.

Development of a quantitative fluorescence lateral flow immunoassay (LFIA) prototype for point-of-need detection of anti-Müllerian hormone
Goux, HJ, Vu, BV, Wasden, K, Alpadi, K, Kumar, A, Kalra, B, Savjani, G, Brosamer, K, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2023, , Practical Laboratory Medicine, vol. 35, e00314.

Smartphone-read phage lateral flow assay for point-of-care detection of infection
Chabi, M, Vu, B, Brosamer, K, Smith, M, Chavan, D, Conrad, JC, Willson, RC & Kourentzi, K 2023, , Analyst, vol. 148, no. 4, pp. 839-848.

Expression and Characterization of Intein-Cyclized Trimer of Staphylococcus aureus Protein A Domain Z
Nandy, S, Maranholkar, VM, Crum, M, Wasden, K, Patil, U, Goyal, A, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Mo, W, Henrickson, A, Demeler, B, Sen, M & Willson, RC 2023, , International journal of molecular sciences, vol. 24, no. 2, 1281.

Protein A–Nanoluciferase fusion protein for generalized, sensitive detection of immunoglobulin G
Nandy, S, Crum, M, Wasden, K, Strych, U, Goyal, A, Maranholkar, V, Mo, W, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2023, , Analytical Biochemistry, vol. 660, 114929, pp. 114929.

Laccase–luminol chemiluminescence system: an investigation of substrate inhibition
Sánchez-Trasviña, C, Galindo-Estrada, JD, Tinoco-Valencia, R, Serrano-Carreón, L, Rito-Palomares, M, Willson, RC & Mayolo-Deloisa, K 2023, , Luminescence, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 341-349.

A review of rapid food safety testing: using lateral flow assay platform to detect foodborne pathogens
Younes, N, Yassine, HM, Kourentzi, K, Tang, P, Litvinov, D, Willson, RC, Abu-Raddad, LJ & Nasrallah, GK 2023, , Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Diagnosis of breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma by analysis of cytokines in peri-implant seromas
Hu, H, Shklovskaya, E, Deva, A, Xu, H, Fan, K, Brosamer, K, Willson, R, Khan, I, Sinha, M & Kadin, ME 2023, , American Journal of Hematology, vol. 98, no. 11, pp. E312-E314.

A novel technology for home monitoring of lupus nephritis that tracks the pathogenic urine biomarker ALCAM
Lei, R, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Soomro, S, Danthanarayana, AN, Brgoch, J, Nadimpalli, S, Petri, M, Mohan, C & Willson, RC 2022, , Frontiers in immunology, vol. 13, 1044743.

Flash Characterization of Smartphones Used in Point-of-Care Diagnostics
Vu, BV, Lei, R, Mohan, C, Kourentzi, K & Willson, RC 2022, , Biosensors, vol. 12, no. 12, 1060.

Isolation and Barcoding of Trace Pollen-free DNA for Authentication of Honey
Chavan, D, Adolacion, JRT, Crum, M, Nandy, S, Lee, KH, Vu, B, Kourentzi, K, Sabo, A & Willson, RC 2022, , Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 70, no. 43, pp. 14084-14095.