UMass Doles out $240,000 to Turn Research Ideas into Commercial Products

3/27/08

Need a better AIDS drug? Want to turn plants into gasoline without going through that whole millions-of-years-buried-in-the-ground thing? The University of Massachusetts is hoping its researchers have figured out how to achieve such feats, and is awarding them grants to help the research along, possibly create new companies, and bring in licensing revenue to fund further research.

The UMass Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property (CVIP) gave out eight grants of $30,000 each to researchers within the UMass system whose work, the office believes, has strong potential for commercial development. “These grants will help to bring UMass inventions and discoveries into the marketplace and into people’s lives,” UMass President Jack Wilson said in announcing the awards. He said that in addition to educating students, UMass should be “an innovation engine” for the state.

Since 2004, the CVIP has given out 26 of these grants. So far, those have led to four new licenses for UMass-developed technology, $2.5 million in new research funding, and one startup company, which UMass didn’t name. Last year the UMass system brought in more than $40 million in licensing revenue.

Here’s a list of the latest grants:

Jie Song, Orthopedics Department, UMass Medical School
“Resorbable Shape Memory Biopolymer for Spine Fusion Applications”
Song has developed a polymer that mimics certain properties of bone, and that can return to an original shape after being deformed, with the shape change triggered by a temperature change. The hope is that the material will minimize tissue damage and improve bone grafts.

Celia Schiffer, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, UMass Medical School
“Testing Novel HIV-1 Protease Inhibitors for Viability Against Resistant Viruses from the Clinic”
Protease inhibitors, which interfere with part of HIV’s reproductive process, were one of the great breakthroughs in fighting AIDS, but the rapidly evolving virus has become resistant to some existing drugs. Schiffer’s trying to design new drugs that are less likely to lead to resistance.

George Huber, Chemical Engineering Department, UMass Amherst
“Green Gasoline from Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis of Lignocellulosic Biomass”
Huber is building a prototype reactor that uses heating and cooling cycles and a catalyst to break down plant matter into oils that can be used to make biofuels.

Stephen McCarthy, Department of Plastics Engineering, UMass Lowell
“Novel Biodegradable Bone Plates and Adhesive Bonding”
A heat-activated adhesive should eliminate the need for drilling and screws in surgeries where doctors repair the skulls of children born with congenital defects. The grant will be used to develop an applicator for the adhesive.

Melisenda McDonald, Department of Chemistry, UMass Lowell
“Novel Hydrogel-based System for Maintenance of Mammalian Cells in Culture”
McDonald hopes to make it easier to keep cultures of animal cells alive for use in research with minimal cost by using hydrogels, which are mixtures of water and polymers with a gooey consistency.

Kevin Fu, Computer Science Department, UMass Amherst
“Zero Power Telemetry for Implantable Medical Devices”
Implantable medical devices, such as pacemakers, now include wireless communications to send information on the patient to doctors. By relying on the data receiver to supply to power to monitor the devices, Fu hopes to extend the battery lifetime of the implantable devices, reducing the need for procedures to replace batteries.

Babs Soller, Department of Anesthesiology, UMass Medical School
“Noninvasive Sensor for Optimizing Athletic Performance: Proof of Concept for Novel, Portable Technology”
Soller is building a smaller, lighter sensor than those currently used to monitor a person’s metabolic rate and exercise capacity. The new sensor will also include wireless communication.

D.V.G.L.N. Rao, Physics Department, UMass Boston
“Fourier Phase Contrast Microscope”
A new microscopy technique could yield a major improvement in the types of microscopes used in research.

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