15 Good Minutes: Nathan Jui

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For Emory Assistant Professor Dr. Nathan Jui, the inspiration for his career in organic chemistry evolved in part from interests in cooking and building. Jui enjoys working on both of these in day to day life and sees similarities with his chemistry interest. Despite the complicated nature of his work, Jui believes that chemistry is similar on to these tasks as it similarly involves manipulating matter, just on a much smaller scale. In his research career, Jui uses this basic chemistry principle for groundbreaking scientific research in areas from cancer drugs to gene expression.

“Life is a bunch of molecules that interact with energy and do things that are really important,” Jui said. “But at the very bottom, basic level it’s all chemistry, and I thought it was really cool to be able to manipulate things on that fundamental level that can have impacts on all levels, from the materials that we deal with to the drugs that we take, to the way that we communicate with each other.”

Jui has been at Emory since 2014, where he runs a lab researching organic chemistry. He attributes his decision to come to Emory to the University’s strong reputation in chemistry, as well as its history of research and innovation. Jui’s lab is currently working on several groundbreaking projects. One notable area Jui is currently focusing on is in cancer research, where he and his team are looking into drugs that could override cancer cells’ ability to evade the immune system, utilizing the body’s natural machinery to destroy cancer. This stands in contrast to existing treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, which essentially poison areas of the body to target cancer.

Another project Jui is currently pursuing is a new diagnostic tool to establish whether drugs will work in patients without requiring patients to try out the drug. This tool could be helpful in preventing unnecessary side effects from drugs by predicting efficacy before the drug is administered.

“We’re trying to use chemistry and a slew of other disciplines to help us make a tool that will figure out if drugs will work beforehand,” Jui said. “It’s a question we don’t have an answer to right now and that no one in the world has an answer to right now”

While Jui has yet to commercialize his research, he is working on several projects that he believes could eventually be commercialized. Jui says his field is open and collaborative by nature, oftentimes making commercialization unnecessary. However, in some instances, commercialization can be advantageous, although challenging.

“You have to make sure before commercializing a given project it’s going to work and it has to have a competitive advantage over everything else that’s been done in the same area with the same purpose,” Jui said. “So, the challenge is really getting something worth commercializing.”

Despite these challenges, Jui is optimistic that some of his innovations could eventually have commercial potential. He says that his relationship with Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) will be a key component in this effort. Jui works with OTT on the patent and licensing processes for innovations discovered through his academic research.

“OTT is pretty responsive and pretty interested in commercialization of technology,” Jui said.  “And they’ve done it well in the past, and so hopefully some of the products I’m involved with will follow along those lines.”

Nathan Jui: https://www.juigroup.com/