Radio Cade

The Art of Healthy Cows

October 30, 2019 Treen Huo Season 1 Episode 51
Radio Cade
The Art of Healthy Cows
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Radio Cade
The Art of Healthy Cows
Oct 30, 2019 Season 1 Episode 51
Treen Huo

How do ranchers know if their cows are healthy? One way is to use a quick and easy blood test to measure the strength of cows’ immune systems, a method that avoids the overuse of antibiotics. The test was invented by Treen Huo, a professor at the University of Central Florida and twice a Cade Prize finalist.  Treen, who grew up on a farm in China said she was a very curious kid.  “To keep me out of trouble, “ Treen recalls, "my father had me learn music, painting, and Kung-Fu. I run my research like a piece of art, and my training in these things taught me to be tough and persistent.”

Show Notes Transcript

How do ranchers know if their cows are healthy? One way is to use a quick and easy blood test to measure the strength of cows’ immune systems, a method that avoids the overuse of antibiotics. The test was invented by Treen Huo, a professor at the University of Central Florida and twice a Cade Prize finalist.  Treen, who grew up on a farm in China said she was a very curious kid.  “To keep me out of trouble, “ Treen recalls, "my father had me learn music, painting, and Kung-Fu. I run my research like a piece of art, and my training in these things taught me to be tough and persistent.”

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Is your cow healthy? Not a question most people ask themselves, but if you own a lot of cattle, you think about it every day. If only there were a blood test to measure the strength of your cows immune systems, spoiler alert, there is. I'm your host, Richard Miles, and today on Radio Cade, my guest is Treen Huo, a professor at the University of Central Florida and the founder of Nano Discovery. Welcome to the show, Treen.

Treen Huo:

Hi Richard, Uh , thank you. Uh, it's a real pleasure to be here.

Richard Miles:

So Treen, we usually start out each show by asking the inventor or the entrepreneur to explain the actual technology, what it is and what it does. And maybe you've heard the phrase that person's all hat and no cattle. Well, I don't have a hat or any cattle, so you really have to start with the basics for me. Um , why don't we start with what kind of diseases do cattle get and , and how do ranchers currently deal with that problem?

Treen Huo:

So basically , um, I always say infectious diseases, they infection by bacterial viruses, parasites , uh, is the biggest problem for the cattle health. And because animals are not like a humans, so they don't talk, so when they're sick, we don't know. So how do you find out that ? I mean, by the time you find out one or two calves or cows are dead, you know, there's something wrong with your herd . So that's when the farm owners started to suspect that there's a disease because they're all all together in the ranch, or in the farms. So they basically spread of the diseases are very fast . So now there are a couple of things is the ones that are sick, how can you identify them as quick as possible? So we can treat the sick ones and the prevented the disease to further spread to the other cattle. And the secondary thing is just like a human, and so just like us and the animal was a better immune health. They're going to be more disease resistant. So infectious disease , basically pretty much any infectious disease, it has everything to do is with immune health. And if you have a good immune health, you'll be better, you'll be more resistant to the disease. So really what we are trying to do is to help the farmers to , uh , look at the immune activity and also the status of the animal, so say we from the data, we would know, Oh yeah, this kind of this cow, this calf has a better immune system or the other calf currently has an active immune response. So we suspected the calf is sick right now. So this is what we are trying to have a test. And then the next question is how do you actually detect or measure the health activity of an animal? Well, you have many ways to do it, that in the lab, very complicated, the equipment to techniques by the , in that farm, in the small , uh , veterinary clinics, your choice is I would say almost nonexistent. They're really, really limited. So that's what our technology, our product comes in. So we have a very simple blood test, which you can be done in the farm or in the veterinary small clinics, pretty much any farm, any size you can do it there. And you have a quick test, so you have a good idea about the immune health and the status of the cattle .

Richard Miles:

So a couple of questions. One, I imagine up until now, a lot of farmers will deal with the problem with the use of a lot of antibiotics, right?

Treen Huo:

Yes.

Richard Miles:

So they're getting the antibiotics and just hope , okay. Just like a parent immunizing, a child or a sick child go , okay, hopefully that'll take care of the problem, right?

Treen Huo:

Yes. Once you have a real sick animal, of course you should have used antibiotics to treat them.

Richard Miles:

But that's after the cattles are to become sick. Right? So in a sense, it's already a problem.

Treen Huo:

Yeah. But the issue is even a small farm, small cattle ranch. You probably have a hundred or 250 or something. The question is, do you treat them all? You want to trade the ones to sick? How do you know this one gets the sick? And the other one is not the same?

Richard Miles:

You don't have to give a hundred cattle antibiotics if only three of them are sick? Right?

Treen Huo:

Exactly. So even for the farmer fields is the biggest threat. They want to give a more aggressive treatment. The public will treat them all. And then you have a budget to issue as well. When saying your treatment is expensive as well. And then some farmers say , well, I just treat this a few for now, but then you realize, Oh no. And then the more lost more deaths . So it's really a difficult, hard situation for them. That's why I say, if you have a simple test and a low cost, it has to be low cost. Quickly allow them to test it immediately. No , which you say 10% and 20% at which ones are safe . You only treat those. You don't treat the others.

Richard Miles:

Well , let's talk about the test itself. So you said it's , it's relatively simple. Does a farmer need specialized machinery to do these tests? Or is it literally like a veterinarian going out to each cow and jabbing them with a needle and drawing a sample blood? Or how does it actually work?

Treen Huo:

Yes, they do need to draw the blood, but they're drawing. Blood actually is quite easier because it will pretty much, he even a small operation, it will have a veterinarian . They usually will have a one to serve them. So if they need them to call them to draw the blood , uh , lots of ranches and pharmacy , they have their own technician that could do the blood draw as well. So once the blood is draw, they do our test , our test , actually this couple versions, they can send it to our company for the testing, but they can also do a day in around two , which he is using very low costs . That equipment is not really expensive.

Richard Miles:

I see, so the mechanics of drawing the blood is not really a problem, or not costly. And then if they test it there at the ranch, does this involve a specialized machine that then analyzes the blood and gives them the results? Or is it, do they still have to send something to a lab somewhere?

Treen Huo:

No, they don't have to. We are only just saying they don't have the manpower, the technician to do it , the staff, they can just send it to us, but they can do it if they have a person there, if it doesn't require much training at all, it needs a little bit of equipment, but very similar equipment to it or suitable for the farm testing.

Richard Miles:

And I imagine you don't need any specialized training to interpret the results, right? Does it give you a fairly clear results ? Anybody could say, okay, the cow is sick or it has this or that condition?

Treen Huo:

The , the basic instruction will be all provided to them. Yeah.

Richard Miles:

So again, I'm not a farmer, I'm not an ag expert, but that strikes me as a pretty good idea. And if we've learned anything on this show, we know, however that good ideas don't sell themselves, right? Even the best idea in the world usually has to be marketed. It has to be developed, has to be produced and investors have to provide early financing. That sort of stuff. You've been trained as a researcher. You still are a researcher. Of course, you're a professor at the University of Central Florida, but you've also now gotten involved on the business angle in terms of forming a company, looking for customers, all those sort of things that you need to do. Tell us a little bit, what has that been like making the transition or at the same time, I guess being both the researcher and owner or co-founder of your own company and developing that and all the things that come with that,

Treen Huo:

Richard, that's extremely interesting, good question. I would say we have been doing this for last 10 years since we initially develop the platform technology to itself. And it was quite a long journey. It takes us so long really to put something in that market as, you know, I studied as a researcher, as a faculty. So our job is to develop a new technology. I want, once we find a one newest, Oh, we're very excited that we think EG can be used for such as such as such, as we initially saw. The naturally is a full , our technology basically is a nano-technology based approach. So we were using this approach for basically to develop a blood test or for human diseases, like a cancer, like a infectious diseases. So we were working this one for quite a while . And then this agriculture animal business, it was actually brought to me by other people. They said, well, you a working on human infectious disease and cancer. I think that might be a really a bigger need from agriculture animal industry, like a cat or like a sheep, like a goat . That's when I started to learn, you know, I'm like you, I'm not a cattle man. You know? So I didn't have much experience there. But then I said , Oh yeah, sure. And we started to work with people from Australia, from the U.S. I started to reach out to doctors, the ranch owners, they're all extremely interested. So they are actually very, very cooperative. They say , please do come do your study in our operation. And as a matter of fact, that we have actually a number of, very close to collaborate of the ranch owners feed a lot to owners. I can also tell you, there's a very big feed , a lot to you , Florida. We were working with, to do our study. So what I want to say is, the problem is brought by these totally our potential customers . So that make it a little easier, right ?

Richard Miles:

So you didn't even have to go out and find the problem. The problem found you.

Treen Huo:

Yeah, exactly because I had the problem find me and they it's much easier. I can tell you anyone. We talked about the big ranch owners, farm owners. When you have a such a, a test, let me know when you're ready.

Richard Miles:

You don't have to spend a lot of time convincing them that this is a good thing. They know it's a good thing.

Treen Huo:

Yes, they know they have the problmem. Yes, yes.

Richard Miles:

Tell us about that process of you're in your lab. As you said, you were working on technology that you thought probably does have an application for humans, but that was the direction you thought the market would respond to.

Treen Huo:

It is a still.

Richard Miles:

It's still there, it still is.

Treen Huo:

It just requires a lot of more investment in the timing.

Richard Miles:

Is that because of the safety issue that before we can start actually doing it, FDA has to get involved?

Treen Huo:

Even to do a study, it's difficult because you have to get the IRB approval. I'm not complaining, but it's a lot of people and you would not start your study anytime soon. So we have actually at the university, I have quite a few projects related to still with so prostate cancer and also infectious disease . But it takes a long time, not a like the agriculture animal industry.

Richard Miles:

You can do this, faster.

Treen Huo:

Faster, yes.

Richard Miles:

It's like a lot of universities, University of Central Florida actually helps its researchers along this path. Right. There's a team there very good team, right. That sort of gives you advice on patents and licensing and commercialization did some of this advice come also from University of Central Florida, like, Hey, maybe look at this or look at that?

Treen Huo:

I would say for the research itself or for the technology itself as the principal scientist, of course you are, the one will lead the team. But usually you take a lot of suggestions. Otherwise. I mean, why do we collaborate? I mean, I'm a chemist. I'm not an MD. I'm the email knowledgist but certainly I have a open mind that you must loosen to your collaborate. Cause you don't know immunology, but that yes, but your collaborators are so they tell you, Oh yeah, they should weigh that way. We should do this. We should do that. And you eventually, you come up with a nice test that it works. So in terms of technology, because I've been in this research for a long while , so I know how to protect the IP, what the ideas can't be protected there . So because I'm a university faculty, so all my IP intellectual property belongs to the university, but the company Nano Discovery, licensed that technology. So the university, yes, they have administrative stuff to help us to put the pattern together. I have a more than like a 10 granted the patents. And also after a few, you actually know how to write the writing yourself, but then you have the IP lawyer to help you to really make it professional. Yes.

Richard Miles:

So Treen, let's talk now about yourself, your pre-academic version of you, right? So you were raised in China on a farm?

Treen Huo:

Yes, yes.

Richard Miles:

So that is an experience that most people in the United States have not had. So tell us, what was it like growing up in China? I imagine you still family there. And then as an add on to that, what were your first impressions of the United States? But let's start first. What was it like growing up in China on a farm and then tell us what it was like coming United States . Say for the first time.

Treen Huo:

Yeah. My husband is American. Okay . I often talk to him. I said , I would have never imagined when I was young, I would have come to U.S. and, study be a doctor. I mean, live in this country , uh , married in America . And so I would never thought about this because I live in a really poor village in China before six years old. I wasn't living with my grandparents. So basically village grow a rice field.

Richard Miles:

What province of China?

Treen Huo:

Hunan Province.

Richard Miles:

And that's?

Treen Huo:

In the mountains. In the south in the mounside. Yeah. Grew rice, peanuts and all this. And so we didn't have a lot of farm animals cause that's not allowed, but you do have your chickens. So, you know, you have one or two Buffalo in the same . So I had a great time. Of course it goes to, all we do is to play outside, nothing else to do. And I always loved animals. That's for sure. I have a brother and it was very clear. I was the animal lover and he was not. So I took care of the chickens and dogs in the farm . And then when I started to go to school, my parents picked me up because it will be easier before. Well, that's why I was staying with my grandparents. It's common in China. And then I started to go to school.

Richard Miles:

Were your parents researchers as well or scientists?

Treen Huo:

My parents actually were college graduates very unusual in that the years of China, they graduate college from the 1960s. And then that's it . So, you know, the back of China, it just show so small number of people go through college.

Richard Miles:

And that was a very difficult period in the sixties and seventies.

Treen Huo:

Yeah. But I always had a good education and I was a good student, do my homework. And I , I always was actually a very good student, but my parents, I have to be be honest with you. They never really pay a lot of attention about my grades and what did I do. They were really asked to go, Oh, what's the homework have you done yet? I always did it myself anyway. So my parents who were scientists, they were agriculture scientists .

Richard Miles:

Now you've come full circle right?

Treen Huo:

Yes, their specialty was orange trees.

Richard Miles:

Oh wow and here you are in Florida, and in Orlando.

Treen Huo:

They took me to orange farms because they were the ones who go around, teach the farmers how to take care of their own orange trees. So it was just a few years ago, now my mother passed away three years ago. They both came here, visit me. So I intentionally took them to visit the Lake Wales area. We went to Bok Tower,

Richard Miles:

To the citrus area.

Treen Huo:

Yes because for a long time they changed their job. They later became a government Delfi shows . So they never really do the farm work, but they were very excited as Oh, so many orange trees. And I was very happy to show them.

Richard Miles:

So did you completed your undergraduate studies in China and you studied chemistry or what did you study?

Treen Huo:

Chemistry. Chemistry. Yes .

Richard Miles:

So tell us about coming to United States. Was it for a fellowship or to do a graduate program?

Treen Huo:

The graduate study, because from a university I graduate University of Science Technology of China. They do have a lots of connections. It was a U.S. so many of my classmates came to U.S. and so not just say , Oh, I'll give it the trial as well, because maybe I'll get the PhD degree. It's just a natural, once you're in the chemistry field, you know, you'll have to go to the highest or degree point if you really want to do well. So I applied to a couple of places and I was actually accepted by University of Miami and the Tulane University, then others . Oh yeah, Miami sounds like a really fun the city next to the ocean. So I'll go to University of Miami. So that's how I came to University of Miami. I just remember the many people asking me a question. Are you scared going there by yourself? And then people say, I said that, no, I said what's fall. I said , I was nervous yet, however though , uh , it was only for like a few seconds after landed in Miami airport . Oh my God. I don't know anyone here. So strange place . Did I make a mistake? Should I go back now? And then, after a few minutes I said, no, no , let's go. And after that, I just never thought about oh yeah what a strange place that I immediately kind of like fell in love with it . People say Miami's not that typical America .

Richard Miles:

Right. Well, the joke is it's a great city because it's close to the United States, right?

Treen Huo:

Yeah. Yeah. No , but I love the culture in Miami. I had a great time. Being by myself. I never felt like many others do that and say, Oh, I have a difficult to adapt, but I didn't have a friend. I feel lonely. And so and so. I never felt lonely.

Richard Miles:

I take it you already spoke pretty good English before you came?

Treen Huo:

Oh no, no.

Richard Miles:

So you got in Miami, and,

Treen Huo:

Yes. In China, we learn how to read and a write, but really no one was there to teach us how to speak and our teacher barely speak anything themselves. So we find the, oh, no, I said, I really didn't understand it too much. But of course I was raised into the radios to tapes to them . But that was not enough. I guess it's also related to personality. I like to talk to people in a very quickly, I pick it up, my English, I was able to handle my teaching assistant the job actually very well.

Richard Miles:

That's great. So you're in Miami for how long?

Treen Huo:

I did in my PhD, four and a half years. But that was the date of my post-doc . Yeah , because I like it there. So I did a total sevens years.

Richard Miles:

Seven years. And then , uh , eventually ended up in Orlando. Was it straight from Miami to Orlando?

Treen Huo:

No , I got my first faculty job in North Dakota state.

Richard Miles:

In North Dakota? Wow.

Treen Huo:

In Fargo, that's where I met my husband.

Richard Miles:

Well, I was about to ask that, but before I ask about North Dakota, I have to say for the record, North Dakota is the only state in the United States. I've never been to . So, you know , I have to punch that ticket at some point.

Treen Huo:

In terms of that. Yeah. Wonderful sometime it's all, you know, Miami, Fargo is so different. I guess when I was at that stage, you need to know for me, is it doesn't matter where it has a job, present the job, but I should take it even though I don't really have many choices. So I took it there. I like to Fargo in many ways, but the very soon I do notice difference, November, October.

Richard Miles:

Yeah right, as soon as you step off the plane , it's like, Oh my gosh. I'm not in Miami anymore.

Treen Huo:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They made that lots of his joke about me, you know, for my winter.

Richard Miles:

You're probably one of the few people that voluntarily moved from Miami to Fargo. And that's where you met your husband? Is your husband also a scientist as well?

Treen Huo:

He's a mathematician. He's a mathematical professor. Yes . It is a matter of fact that he was in the math department. I was in the parliament, the coding department in North Dakota . And then when we moved to UCF, that was 2005, So he becoming a faculty in math department and now become faculty in the chemistry department.

Richard Miles:

Great story . Let me close with a couple more questions. You've had the unique experience of you were raised in China. You have Chinese relatives, you know that system very well. And at the same time, you are increasingly knowledgeable about the United States and the American system. What is the one thing you wish Americans knew about China? And then what is the one thing you wish Chinese knew about the United States?

Treen Huo:

Oh, that's a such a great question. I was thinking about maybe after I retire, I would write a book to fund your book or something to talk about this to aspect to particularly knowing the differences .

Richard Miles:

I have to say. One of the reasons I asked that question is because Americans by and large know European countries and cultures fairly well, the same thing with Latin America, increasingly since so many Americans come from Latin America, whether it's Mexico or other countries, they pretty much have a basic understanding, but still to this day, even despite all the trade and everything for most Americans, China is just an unknown. And I'm guessing that for a lot of Chinese, the United States is still this very strange country.

Treen Huo:

I actually, I put in a painting. I think actually the Chinese people, American people are very much alike.

Richard Miles:

Interesting.

Treen Huo:

Yes, in many ways. They're all hard working people. They're all capitalistic, ambitious . They're all like make money. They work hard , make the money. And then they'll all more or less are very open-minded people. However , the big gap really here , the misunderstanding , the bridge is really the , each lack of understanding on their history political system, because they did not know each other, like the American state. They don't know what the Chinese people have gone through, what happened in the past because past and the present, they're all connected together. Nothing happens overnight. So they don't see this.

Richard Miles:

It's a very Chinese way of looking at history, right? American , since we're still such a young country, we tend to undervalue the role of history in our own development and around the world.

Treen Huo:

Yeah. And then the Chinese people. Of course, they're always that really the , my America is such a powerful country. I'm talking about the normal Chinese people. We're not going to go beyond the that. They , they, they always say, Oh yeah, reach a country. American people seem very friendly. Funny on the other hand though, they're Chinese people, to my opinion, lack of understanding on the West history political system. So this is a mutual, why the Americans who don't understand Chinese political too much and the Chinese people do not understand it. Appreciate it. I mean, American history is not that long. However, it is pretty much inherited from the European history and the culture and everything. So the Chinese, you do not have enough understanding why things are done this way. Why the Americans values things see in this away, we'll do this away. So that's the gap where it is, I think.

Richard Miles:

So Treen, I'm looking forward to, after we reach a point where we have nothing but happy, healthy cows stretching from Fargo to Miami, you can do a career change. You can come a political scientist and a historian and look at U.S. Chinese relations. Thank you very much for coming on the show today. This has been fascinating for me and I hope to have you back at some point.

Treen Huo:

Oh, thank you so much for having me here. It's a real pleasure.

Richard Miles:

I'm Richard Miles.

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and vendor interviews. Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme. Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song, featuring violinist, Jacob lawson. And special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.