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Dr. Jian Yang

Bioscience Revolution

Bioengineering researcher Jian Yang’s latest discovery is getting glowing reviews. That’s because his latest discovery, well, glows.

The bioengineering assistant professor has developed a material that’s fluorescent, biodegradable, and safe to implant in the body. Bill Carroll, UT Arlington engineering dean, calls Dr. Yang’s work “revolutionary…in cancer therapy or for imaging,” not to mention what it could do for biosensing, immunology, drug delivery, and tissue engineering.


It’s not just Yang’s colleagues that have taken note. His research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. It recently was reported in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Two months later, the influential American Chemical Society called the work “Noteworthy Chemistry,” a title not bestowed lightly, nor often bestowed on engineers.

Yang’s material is the first of its kind that’s nontoxic (can be used in biomedicine), biodegradable (no long-term toxicity concerns), and has natural fluorescence (can be used as an imaging instrument).

It’s an aliphatic biodegradable photoluminescent polymer, or BPLP. It comes from the laboratory, not nature, but to ensure its usefulness in biomedicine, Yang used naturally occurring building blocks, among them citric acid, octanediol, and nearly two dozen amino acids.

“With our polymer, you can do many things,” Yang says. “You can use it as an implant. You can make our polymer into a bone-repairing template. You can use it for detection, tracking, and sensing applications. And since it’s degradable, it’s not a permanent implant. It will help the body heal; then when you don’t need it anymore, it’s just gone. This is a revolution in biomaterials science.”

Next steps? Seeing what applications his polymer may have across disciplines. “There are so many applications in so many fields,” Yang says. “I’m trying to develop biodegradable polymeric quantum dots. This would be a paradigm shift.”

Dr. Yang with students

“With our polymer, you can do many things,” Yang says. “You can use it as an implant. You can make our polymer into a bone-repairing template. You can use it for detection, tracking, and sensing applications."

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