Professor West’s research focuses on the development of novel biofunctional materials, with research in regenerative medicine and cancer nanotechnology. Part of her program has developed nanoparticle-based approaches to biophotonics therapeutics and diagnostics. An example of this work is the application of near-infrared absorbing nanoparticles for photothermal tumor ablation. In animal studies, this therapeutic strategy has demonstrated very high efficacy with minimal side effects or damage to surrounding normal tissues. In 2000, Professor West founded Nanospectra Biosciences, Inc. to commercialize the nanoparticle-assisted photothermal ablation technology, now called AuroLase. Nanospectra Biosciences, Inc., located in Houston, TX, is the recipient of a NIST ATP Award and a grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. Professor West is a director of the company. The company has built manufacturing facilities, and AuroLase cancer therapy is now in human clinical trials, with initial results recently published in PNAS demonstrating 94% success rate in tumor ablation without significant observed side effects.
Professor West has received numerous accolades for her work. In 2017, she was elected to the National Academy of Inventors. In 2016, she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2015, she received the Society for Biomaterials Clemson Award. In 2014, she was recognized by Thomson Reuters as a Highly Cited Researcher, the top 1% in the field of materials science. In 2010 she was named Texas Inventor of the Year and also Admiral of the Texas Navy (highest honor the governor of Texas can bestow on a civilian). In 2008, The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas honored her with the O’Donnell Prize in Engineering as the top engineer in the state. In 2006, she was named one of 20 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors, recognizing integration of world class research and teaching. She has been listed by MIT Technology Review as one of the 100 most innovative young scientists and engineers world wide. Other recognitions include the Christopher Columbus Foundation Frank Annunzio Award for scientific innovation, Nanotechnology Now’s Best Discovery of 2003, Small Times Magazine’s Researchers of the Year in 2004, and the Society for Biomaterials Outstanding Young Investigator Award. Professor West has authored more than 200 scholarly publications. She also holds 18 patents that have been licensed to eight different companies. She was an invited speaker at the 2006 Nobel Symposium and invited back in 2014 for the 50th Anniversary Nobel Symposium.
Professor West has served as a member of the CSR Council and the Bioengineering, Technology, and Surgical Sciences study section at NIH, and has served on numerous other review boards for NIH, NSF, DOD, and HHMI. She has also been a member of the Defense Sciences Study Group, a member of the NRC panel on management of university intellectual property, and a member of the AAMC panel on research. She chairs the Frontiers of Engineering program for the National Academy of Engineering. She has served as Chair of the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.