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Chemist and biomedical engineer named Foundation Distinguished Professor

Wed, 12/09/2015

LAWRENCE — A catalyst who is driving advances in high-tech diagnostics for cancer, stroke and infectious diseases will join the University of Kansas as a Foundation Distinguished Professor.

Steven Soper, professor in the departments of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), is a leading international researcher in developing new technologies that have important applications for disease detection. A KU alumnus, Soper will return to KU’s Department of Chemistry on July 1, 2016, and hold an appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering as well. He is one of seven Foundation Professors announced this year, one of 12 positions overall.

“Professor Soper’s return to KU is an outstanding recruitment,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “He brings leading-edge interdisciplinary research that bridges several fields, and he truly commands attention of researchers around the world. His background and efforts will further connect KU’s campuses and advance several of our strategic research initiatives, such as promoting well-being and finding cures.”

Soper’s research largely focuses on the development of biomedical devices and the associated assays. The work fits nicely within President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative announced in January. In particular, his group concentrates on the development of in vitro cancer diagnostics based on a combination of innovative methods for isolating circulating tumor cells and the development of nanoscale devices for next-generation sequencing. Often referred to as lab-on-a-chip technologies, Soper’s efforts pinpoint diagnostics for cancer, stroke and infectious diseases as well as bringing diagnostics to the point-of-care.

“Steve Soper is a tremendous addition to the Department of Chemistry,” said Brian Laird, professor and department chair. “He is a world-class and highly regarded bioanalytical chemist and biomedical engineer who has been very successful in forging close collaborations with engineering and the biomedical sciences. He will bring an energy and drive that will help propel KU’s chemistry and bioengineering programs, as well as the university, to new levels. We are very excited to welcome him back to the KU chemistry family.” 

Excitement over Soper’s appointment is shared elsewhere on the Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses.

“Steve is an excellent complement to the research strengths in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Bioengineering Program in the School of Engineering,” said Ted Bergman, professor and chair of mechanical engineering. “He will inspire impactful research among our faculty and students.”

Soper’s research advances are expected to enhance momentum at the KU Cancer Center.

“Given the ability of Steve’s technology to detect small quantities of circulating cancer cells and other disease markers, these diagnostic tools will engender a powerful synergy with our current major research initiatives,” said Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center and CEO of Midwest Cancer Alliance. “I am convinced that bringing Steve’s research center to KU could be a game-changer for the success of major NIH-funded initiatives on the Med Center campus.”

Soper, who has been at UNC since 2011, also is an associate member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center there. Between 2009 and 2012 he held the title of World Class University Professor at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Ulsan, South Korea. From 2013 to present, he has been adjunct professor at Ulsan. In fall 2008, while on sabbatical leave from Louisiana State University, he served as visiting scientist at UNC.  

Between 1991 and 2011 he was a rising faculty member with the departments of Chemistry, Mechanical engineering and Biological Sciences at LSU. In 2004, Soper founded and became the director of the Center for BioModular Multi-Scale Systems for Precision Medicine. The center, which he continues to direct, draws upon research expertise at LSU, UNC and Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. During his tenure at LSU, Soper also served five years as a science adviser for the Southeast region of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and chemistry from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He earned a doctorate in bioanalytical chemistry from KU in 1989 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He holds 12 patents. His industry experience includes two years as an analytical chemist for Colgate Palmolive prior to beginning his doctoral studies at KU, and entrepreneurship as founder and chief science officer of the successful startup company BioFluidica. Soper plans to move research operations of BioFluidica to incubator space at KU.

He has secured roughly $57 million in research support from federal and industrial sources. Soper is a prolific research writer and has published more than 250 papers in peer-reviewed journals, two books, five book chapters and more than 70 refereed conference proceedings. His work has been cited more than 9,800 times. He has served on advisory and editorial boards for a number of journals, including the Journal of Fluorescence, Analyst and the Journal of Micro- and Nanosystems. He is currently the associate editor of the Americas for Analyst.

He is involved in a number of professional organizations and study panels. Some of the more prominent organizations include the American Chemical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He’s been called upon to serve on numerous study panels for the National Institutes of Health on a variety of topics. He’s also offered his expertise to panels assembled by the National Cancer Institute, the AAAS, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and others.

His awards and honors include fellow status in AAAS, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy; the ACS Award in Advances in Chemical Instrumentation; the A.A. Benedetti-Pilcher International Microchemical Award; the Whitaker Foundation Award; the National Institutes of Health Shannon Award; and the R&D 100 Award.

KU’s Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract 12 eminent scholars to support one or more of the university’s four strategic initiative themes. Soper is the 10th Foundation Professor named to date.



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