‘Make Me a Millionaire Inventor’ — UA researcher appearing on CNBC


Deanne Bell and Yang Liu

Deanne Bell, an engineering expert with CNBC's “Make Me A Millionaire Inventor,” and UA's Dr. Yang Liu. He's on the Sept. 9 show at 10 p.m. — Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Dr. Yang Liu has always wanted to make a difference in the world. As a biomedical engineer, his specialty is building devices to detect abnormalities like cancer during surgery. His discussions with the world-famous surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic always ended with a question, “Can you help detect cancer earlier and better?” This problem was the holy grail of early diagnosis and treatment, so that surgeons who could quickly and easily catch disease progression saved more lives. 

“My goal is to change the way we detect and remove cancer cells,” says Liu, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “With resources from The University of Akron, Cleveland Clinic, state of Ohio and NASA, we’ve been able to develop technology that does just that.”

Smart Goggles

Smart Goggle, the technology developed by Dr. Yang Liu. — Photo courtesy of CNBC.

That technology steered Liu and his team of graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering to invent the “Smart Goggle.” These goggles allow a surgeon to see with high sensitivity and resolution any illuminated cancer cells on the surface of the skin.

One unique outcome of UA’s entrepreneurial connections led to an opportunity to appear on a new television show on CNBC. “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor,” which is designed to help inventors bring their ideas to life, came to the UA campus to meet with the “Smart Goggle” team. That episode — #105 - “The Sky’s the Limit” — premieres tonight, Sept. 9, at 10 p.m. on CNBC. Tune in to see what happened when the show connected the team with potential investors.

How did he get on the show?

Primed with a new invention, Liu came to UA’s Proof of Concept (POC) Center for support. Lead by Dr. Gopal Nadkarni, the center took Liu and his team through the Proof of Concept initiative to research if and how their goggles have the potential of being used, and how to market them into a commercially viable product. The center helped Liu collaborate with both the Office of Technology Transfer and University of Akron Research Foundation (UARF) to patent the technology and coordinate the LEAP (Leading Academics into Practice) funding.

Steve Conklin with Zion Johnson

UA's Dr. Yang Liu, left, with Dr. Frank Papay of the Cleveland Clinic. — Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Teaming an inventor with the right industry entrepreneurial mentor is significant. Dr. Brian Davis, chairman of UA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, helped them make a key connection with a world-renowned surgeon.

“Dr. Liu was paired with Dr. Frank Papay, chairman of the Dermatology & Plastic Surgery Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, and another industrial mentor during the LEAP process,” says Nadkarni. The team won a conditional grant of $25,000, after which it won $50,000 from Ohio Third Frontier’s Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund.

Surgeons praise accuracy

“Those funds allowed Dr. Liu to develop the goggles to the Proof of Concept Stage,” explains Nadkarni, a step that involves testing and prototyping. “Surgeons who have seen early models of the goggles love the fact that they are wearable, light-weight and are more accurate than conventional methods.”

To make a clinical impact with the goggles, Liu and Papay founded a startup company to commercialize the technology.

Nadkarni knew about the new CNBC series and pitched Liu’s invention to the producers of “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor.”

And it was accepted.

“Make Me A Millionaire Inventor” features engineering experts Deanne Bell and George Zaidan. They scour the country looking for amazing ideas they’re convinced can make big money. They’ll track down the inventors and give them a real chance to bring their ideas and dreams to life. The inventors will be given the resources and help they need to take their products from concept to reality, building, testing, and perfecting their products for the biggest pitch of their lives.

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or lmc91@uakron.edu.