Accelerate Uconn – News

Crossing the River to Find Healthcare Solutions

Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Kourosh Parham, MD, Ph.D. has come up with a blood test that can detect hearing loss far sooner than existing tests.  Early detection can potentially prevent further hearing loss, Parham told a group of medical practitioners, faculty and students from engineering, business, medicine and other UConn graduate programs at Healthcare Solutions Night, held recently at UConn Health.

Many people suffer from hearing loss, but hearing tests are limited and fail to capture the full range of hearing, he said. Researchers are working on medications to prevent further hearing damage – once it has been detected. But, at this point, he can’t give patients their test results until he has 90 blood samples to test at once. He was seeking someone to help him find a way to test blood samples individually.

As soon as he finished his presentation, people in the audience suggested ideas and offered to collaborate.

A biodegradable force sensor developed by Dr. Thanh Duc Nguyen from the Department of Mechanical Engineering
A biodegradable force sensor developed by Dr. Thanh Duc Nguyen from the Department of Mechanical Engineering

Parham was one of five clinicians and researchers at the recent cross-pollination event aimed at developing solutions to pressing health-care problems. He and the other presenters had devised a potential solution to a problem and came hoping others with different skills could help bring the ideas to market. In addition, Thanh Duc Nguyen, Ph.D., a member of the department of mechanical engineering who invented an implantable, dissolvable sensor, was looking to partner with clinicians who could apply his biodegradable sensor to their practice. He knew he had a great idea, but needed to demonstrate its ability to positively impact medical conditions.

Teams that formed during the team-building portion of the event will compete for two $1,500 Healthcare Solutions Seed Grants offered through the Accelerate UConn program. Accelerate UConn is a joint operation of the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Accelerate UConn’s goal is to build and support cross-disciplinary teams that improve the likelihood of commercial success of UConn technologies. The funds are intended to help the winning teams begin working together and prepare for future competitions where they can win additional funding and business development support.

“Sometimes you get unexpected solutions when you mix the crowd together,” said Mostafa Analoui, Ph.D. executive director of Venture Development, Office of the Vice President for Research and the evening’s host.  Anne Diamond, CEO of UConn John Dempsey Hospital and Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the School of Medicine, welcomed and encouraged the attendees, a mixture of medical students, graduate students, faculty and clinicians.  “This is a great way to spur an accelerated effort to commercialize academic research,” Liang said.

The other presenters were Dr. Santhanam Lakshminarayanan, Division of Rheumatology; Dr. Joel Levine, Colon Cancer Prevention Program; Dr. Courtney Townsel, Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine; and Heather Spear, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Courtney Townsel is a Maternal Fetal MedicineFellow at UConn. She is developing a non-invasive treatment for cervical cerclage. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Photo).
Dr. Courtney Townsel is a Maternal Fetal MedicineFellow at UConn. She is developing a non-invasive treatment for cervical cerclage. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Photo).

After Parham and other presenters explained their concepts, attendees from the various disciplines were invited to approach whichever presenter they felt they could help, given their various disciplinary expertise or interest. Evan R. Jellison, Ph.D., assistant professor, immunology, who runs the Flow Cytometry lab at UConn Health, met with Parham to discuss ideas for an alternate, more efficient and individualized blood test method.

“We are planning to apply for the Healthcare Solutions Seed Grant to fund our collaboration,” Parham said following the meeting.

Another presenter, psychiatric nurse Heather Spear, held her son’s teddy bear while explaining her idea for a device that could be imbedded into a stuffed animal to help sooth delirious patients. She outlined the problem faced in hospitals nationwide, pointing out that as Baby Boomers age, the challenge will snowball.

More than 40 percent of the patients admitted to UConn John Dempsey Hospital are over 65, and nationally, about 35 percent of admitted patients are at least age 65.  About 10 to 31 percent of patients 65 and older come to hospitals in a state of delirium, said Spear, a leader in the NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) program at UConn Health. Once they arrive, another 11 to 42 percent develop delirium.

As a result, these patients’ hospital stays are prolonged, increasing their risk of infection, decline, continued confusion and death. These factors lead to increased costs and decreased quality of life.

Spear hopes to create a hospital-acceptable bear that has a four-quadrant, digital panel imbedded in its belly. When patients touch the bear, whether intentionally or accidently, they would see and hear either a video of a loved one, the date and time, video clips of TV shows from their younger years or music from their youth. The bear has to withstand being thrown, since delirious patients can become agitated, anxious or disoriented.

During the team-building portion of the event, electrical engineer Insoo Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of medicine at the UConn Health, offered Spear new ideas to advance her product’s development. “The solution to your idea is a software design rather than a device,” he said with confidence. “We can program the tablet. A student can write an app.”

“To me, it was rocket science,” she said later. “I was thinking, ‘This is exactly why I came to this event.’ ”

She’s had this idea for a few years, but jumped on the chance to present it to colleagues with different skills, she said.

“I was somewhat nervous, but I knew that I only had to present what I know,” Spear said. “It was a very welcoming audience. They’re there because they want to be there. They’re hoping to hear something they can jump in on and invent and make.”

It was comforting to see a few other nurses in the audience, she said. She wasn’t sure her idea would gain any traction and was thrilled at the response. Other nurses who work with dementia patients felt it would help their patients who experience memory loss.

Kim invited Spear to attend the Senior Design Pitch Day on March 27, where third-year biomedical engineering students hear about different ideas that they could work on for their senior design projects. Energized, she’s working on her application for the Healthcare Solutions Seed Grant offered through the Accelerate UConn program.

Accelerate UConn is the University’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site. Its mission is to bring scientific discoveries and capabilities from the lab to the marketplace.  Participating teams receive $3,000 in seed funding for their new ventures and an introduction to the most critical elements of the I-Corps Curriculum and Lean Launchpad methodology. Over seven weeks, teams learn how to assess the market opportunity for their product or technology.

Each workshop provides hands-on training in the basics of business planning and is delivered by entrepreneurs and faculty members. These coaches provide personalized guidance and feedback to help teams construct an evidence-based business model and market-entry strategy.  Participating teams also receive $3,000 in seed funding for their ventures. Accelerate UConn is open to all university faculty and students.  For more information, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu.

Apply Now for Accelerate UConn’s Fall 2016 Cohort!

Accelerate UConn (AU), UConn’s NSF I-Corps Site, is accepting applications for the Fall 2016 Cohort, and the deadline for applications is right around the corner!

Accelerate UConn provides faculty-student teams with seed grants of up to $3,000 and business training that accelerates the commercialization process for early-stage technologies developed at UConn. Participating teams gain valuable insight into the best ways to advance new technologies to the marketplace. Teams that have completed the program have gone on to win additional support through the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summer Fellowship, the UConn SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund, the BioPipeline CT Grant program, as well as investments from Connecticut Innovations.

Important Dates

Application Deadline: September 9, 2016
Decision Notification: September 16, 2016
Program Kick Off: September 30 – October 1, 2016

If you are interested in learning more about how Accelerate UConn can help you understand the business potential of your discovery, you can hear from some Accelerate UConn grads at AU’s YouTube channel. For more information about the Accelerate UConn program curriculum and to access the online application, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu.

Applicants who were not selected in previous cycles are encouraged to reapply. To receive input on your application and helping form a team, contact Accelerate UConn staff at accelerateuconn@uconn.edu.

Accelerate UConn is operated as a partnership between the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI).

UConn Researchers Develop Promising Therapeutics with PITCH

PRImageDrawingIn a partnership with Yale University called PITCH (Program in Innovative Therapeutics for Connecticut’s Health), several UConn researchers are conducting groundbreaking drug research to develop new strategies for treating disease and improving human health. The program leverages the research capabilities and infrastructure at the state’s premier research universities in order to transform basic science into marketable products.

“The PITCH program provides critical support for drug discovery and commercialization, which is a very difficult, complex and expensive process,” said UConn/UConn Health Vice President for Research, Dr. Jeff Seemann. “This large-scale collaboration between world-class researchers at UConn and Yale increases productivity at both institutions, which in turn benefits society and economic growth in the state with the successful launch of new biotech companies and the commercialization of effective therapeutics.”

Current UConn PITCH projects include the following:

Dr. James Cole is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry at UConn.  With 12 years of research funded by the National Institutes of Health dedicated to elucidating the mechanism of activation of the antiviral protein kinase R (PKR), along with 10 years of experience in antiviral drug discovery at Merck Research Laboratories, Dr. Cole is carrying out high-throughput screening for novel PKR activators. These molecules will serve as drug leads to combat globally important viral diseases that currently lack effective treatments, such as Influenza, Ebola and Dengue.

Dr. Michael Lynes is Professor and Head of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. Through his global research collaborations and his work at UConn, Dr. Lynes’ research has had a significant impact on our understanding of the genetic, biochemical and cellular processes involved in immune regulation including the role of environmental toxicants as well as the stress protein metallothionein. This has resulted in the discovery of a new therapeutic antibody for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a group of severe and debilitating immunological diseases affecting more 1 million people in the U.S and 2.5 million in Europe.  Direct IBD treatment costs and the associated disability-related costs are in the billions of dollars annually.  The PITCH program will allow Dr. Lynes and his collaborators at the University of Gent IBD Research Unit to investigate this new therapeutic, and the potential to provide a new, safer and more effective therapeutic intervention for patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD.

Dr. Li Wang is Professor in the UConn Department of Physiology & Neurobiology and a member of the UConn Institute for Systems Genomics.  She is also an Investigator with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, as well as an Adjunct Faculty of the Section of Digestive Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine and a member of Yale Liver Center. In 2014, Dr. Wang brought her research program to Connecticut to work on the physiology of the liver and liver diseases. She is an internationally-recognized expert on the molecular and cellular biology of the liver. Along with her collaborators, Dr. Dennis Wright and Dr. Diane Burgess, who are leading experts in medicinal chemistry and drug delivery from the UConn School of Pharmacy, Dr. Wang is working to develop novel compounds to treat fibrotic liver disease, a contributor to mortality in patients affected by cirrhosis and a leading cause of liver cancer, causing around 1.5 million deaths worldwide per year.

Drs. Dennis Wright, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Amy Anderson, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Head, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences of UConn, are providing assistance to lead investigator, Dr. Mark Plummer, from Yale’s Center for Molecular Discovery in a truly collaborative, cross-university project. It is estimated that each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with drug-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of these infections. For over a decade, Professors Wright and Anderson have been working on developing new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant bacteria.  The PITCH program will allow this team to work side by side to develop new beta-lactam antibiotics for highly drug resistant Gram-negative pathogens.

Launched in September 2015, PITCH is supported by a three-year, $10 million investment by BioInnovation Connecticut, and helps innovators speed bioscience discoveries toward commercialization. For more information, visit the PITCH webpage. The next round of applications are due on July 15, 2016. Applications should be sent to pitch@yale.eduAccess the application here.

2016 SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund Winners

spark_logoDr. Jeff Seemann, UConn/UConn Health Vice President for Research, and Dr. Bruce Liang, Dean of the UConn School of Medicine and Director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2016 UConn SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund Program. These awards aim to help investigators from UConn-Storrs and UConn Health (UCH) move ideas into the earliest stages of commercialization and development. A program originally established at UConn Health, this is the first year that SPARK has been extended to faculty at both UCH and Storrs.

“There is a wealth of technologies coming out of UConn labs that could be commercialized if given critical, early-stage funding to prove out the concept,” said Dr. Jeff Seemann. “The UConn SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund provides that invaluable initial support to move technologies along the innovation continuum so they can more quickly and successfully reach the market, benefit society, and impact economic growth in Connecticut.”

The selection committee included UConn/UConn Health faculty and staff leaders, entrepreneurs and senior executives from top pharmaceutical, biotech and venture capital firms. Through this valuable proof-of-concept funding program, participating researchers not only advance promising technologies toward the market, they also connect with and learn from the committee members representing various industries. As was the case last year, the committee members were truly impressed by the science and innovation conveyed in all 19 presentations.

The committee selected the following eight awardees from a highly competitive pool of finalists:

  • Dr. Tulio Valdez, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center/UConn Health, Department of Surgery
    Short Wave Infrared Otoscope for Objective Assessment for Otitis Media with Effusion
  • Dr. Doug Adamson, UConn, Institute of Materials Science
    Graphene Nano Composites for Capacitive Deionization: an Inexpensive and Energy-Efficient Approach to Large Scale Desalinization
  • Dr. Michael Lynes, UConn, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Anti-metallothionein antibody: a safe and effective anti-inflammatory therapy
  • Dr. Robert Kelly, UConn Health, Department of Reconstructive Sciences
    Artificial salivary gland
  • Dr. Puxian Gao, UConn, Department of Materials Science and Engineering & Institute of Materials Science, Nano-Array Based High-Performance Catalyzed Diesel Particulate Filter
  • Dr. Rajesh Lalla, UConn Health, Department of Oral Health and Diagnostic Sciences
    Development of a novel, long-acting, topical anesthetic product for the treatment of oral mucositis
  • Dr. Kamal Khanna, UConn Health, Department of Immunology and Department of Pediatrics
    VLV-Based Vaccine for the Prevention of C. difficile Infection
  • Dr. Leila Ladani, UConn, Department of Mechanical Engineering
    Multi-Scale Manufacturing of High Conductivity Composite Materials

“The SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund continues to showcase the exceptional work being done at UConn Health, and now also includes the world-class researchers from Storrs as well,” said Dean Liang. “I would like to commend all of the applicants on the superior quality and cutting-edge innovations represented in their SPARK proposals, and to thank the OVPR for their skillful managing of this important program.”

Congratulations, SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund Recipients!

Accelerate UConn Advances Promising Technologies

Baikun Li, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and PhD candidate, Yan Li, discuss their technology with a representative from Connecticut Innovations.
Baikun Li, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and PhD candidate, Yan Li, discuss their technology with a representative from Connecticut Innovations.

A dozen promising technologies are making progress toward the market thanks to Accelerate UConn (AU), the University of Connecticut’s National Science Foundation (NSF) entrepreneurship program. Several high-potential faculty-student teams recently completed rigorous business training provided through the program, culminating with final presentations before their peers, university administrators, and members of the business community.

“Accelerate UConn helps high-potential technologies take that critical first step out of the lab towards the market,” said UConn Vice President for Research, Dr. Jeff Seemann. “Making contact with customers, developing a market entry strategy, pivoting a business idea for a better chance of success—it’s all essential for UConn technologies to reach the market where they can benefit society and impact economic growth in Connecticut.”

Dr. Caroline Dealy, Associate Professor of Reconstructive Sciences at UConn Health, and Zuleyha Ozen present, Masters student in Applied Genomics, present on their novel biologic therapy to treat non-responsive rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Caroline Dealy, Associate Professor of Reconstructive Sciences at UConn Health, and Zuleyha Ozen present, Masters student in Applied Genomics, present on their novel biologic therapy to treat non-responsive rheumatoid arthritis.

Accelerate UConn is the only NSF I-Corps site in Connecticut, and one of only four in New England. I-Corps sites are housed at academic institutions around the country, and provide valuable business training and seed funding to grow promising university-based technologies. I-Corps is a key initiative established in 2011 to increase the volume of commercially viable technologies coming out of academic labs. The program provides a framework for entrepreneurial faculty, staff, and students to join with industry mentors and participate in special NSF-endorsed curricula. Participants learn to assess the market potential of their technologies, and win funds to support early customer contact to validate concepts and market strategies.

The technologies in this cycle are at varying degrees of development, come from several different disciplines, and serve multiple industries. Some of the teams have already formed startups based on their products or services, while others may seek to develop licensing opportunities with existing companies.

The technologies that gained ground during this cycle of Accelerate UConn include:

  • A novel passive sampling device to detect toxic organic pollutants in various aquatic environments, like natural waterways, groundwater, and wastewaters.
  • A non-invasive method to address cervical insufficiency, a condition that causes pre-term labor.
  • Software and consultation services to establish native plant communities and pollinator habitats on New England roadways, allowing for both positive environmental and cost-saving measures by departments of transportation, energy companies, and conservation groups.
  • A novel therapeutic for pediatric patients with drug resistant leukemia.
  • A comprehensive solution to prevent irresponsible teen driving for use by parents, insurance companies, and car manufacturers.
  • Fluorescent shrimp for pollutant reporting, education, and home aquariums.
  • An off-the-grid lighting system for use in developing countries.
  • Non-toxic, highly sensitive voltage-sensitive dyes for brain and heart focused drug screening.
  • A device to monitor the quality of wastewater in real-time and improve effluent quality.
  • A first-in-class biologic therapy for non-responding Rheumatoid Arthritis with the industry’s first companion diagnostic test.
  • Rapid, on-site disease diagnostic technologies to increase efficiency of patient care in clinical settings.
The second class of Accelerate UConn "grads" and program staff.
The second class of Accelerate UConn “grads” and program staff.

“By developing a stronger understanding of their target markets, the Accelerate UConn teams are now better-prepared to commercialize their exciting, original technologies,” said Dr. Tim Folta, Faculty Director of CCEI and Thomas John and Bette Wolff Family Chair in Strategic Entrepreneurship in UConn’s School of Business. “These are innovations that could lower healthcare costs, have a positive impact on the environment, improve patient experience and quality of life, all while also having a significant, tangible effect on the state economy.”

Accelerate UConn launched in May 2015, and has already helped approximately 20 teams of aspiring entrepreneurs. The program serves all UConn campuses, including UConn Health, and is jointly operated by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation housed in the School of Business. Accelerate UConn complements many other initiatives at UConn focused on commercialization, like the Technology Incubation Program, the CCEI Summer Fellowship Program, the construction of the UConn Tech Park at Storrs, and the growing relationship with The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

To learn more about Accelerate UConn, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu.

Accelerate UConn Spring 2016 Winners Announced

Accelerate UConn, an NSF I-Corps Site to move technologies more quickly and successfully from the lab to the market
Accelerate UConn, an NSF I-Corps Site to move technologies more quickly and successfully from the lab to the market

Dr. Jeff Seemann, UConn/UConn Health Vice President for Research and Dr. Timothy Folta, Professor of Management and Faculty Director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, are pleased to announce the teams selected into the Spring cohort of Accelerate UConn, the University’s National Science Foundation I-Corps site.  The selection committee was composed of an independent panel of entrepreneurs, senior executives, and industry experts from a variety of disciplines.  The following teams will receive special training and a $3,000 seed grant to help understand whether and how their technology might create customer value:

  • Les Loew & Dr. Corey Acker, Fluorescent Dyes, Faculty, CCAM
  • Baikun Li & Yan Li, Energy Recovery from Food Waste, Faculty, School of Engineering
  • Julia Kuzovkina & John Campanelli, Endemic Grasses, Student-Faculty, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources
  • Caroline Dealy, Biotherapeutic – Rheumatoid Arthritis, Faculty, School of Dental Medicine
  • Dan Dvoskin, Autobeacon, Student, School of Business
  • Savas Tasoglu & Stephanie Knowlton, Magnetic Levitation for Urinalysis, Student-Faculty, School of Engineering
  • Amy Anderson & Michael Lombardo, Pediatric Leukemia, Faculty, School of Pharmacy
  • Lily Louis & Anthony Patelunas, ShrimpBright, Student-Faculty, Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Courtney Townsel & Dr. Winston Campbell, Cervical Cerclage, Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellow
  • Penny Vlahos, EVA-Passive water sampling, Faculty, Marine Sciences
  • Benjamin Williams, Innovative Diffusion, Student, School of Business

 

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) jointly operate Accelerate UConn (AU).  As an NSF I-Corps Site program, AU was formed to foster entrepreneurship resulting in technology commercialization.  I-Corps Sites are academic institutions that catalyze the engagement of multiple, local teams in technology transition and strengthen local innovation.

For more information about Accelerate UConn, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu or email accelerateuconn@uconn.edu

UConn Researchers and CaroGen Corp Join Forces

UConn Health Professor of Medicine, Daniel Rosenberg, PhD is partnering with CaroGen Corporation to use science and technology along with patient input to develop a vaccine against colorectal cancer.

CaroGen Corporation is an emerging vaccine company with R&D facilities at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in Farmington. The company’s novel and transformative platform technology is based on replication-proficient virus-like vesicles (VLVs) for the treatment of infectious diseases and cancer, in particular chronic hepatitis B virus infection (HBV). The VLVs activate an immune response, which amplifies the immune system much in the same way as standard viral-based vaccines would. However, CaroGen’s technology is much safer since VLVs are not viruses at all.

“CaroGen was already exploring ways that our existing technology could be applied as a cancer therapy, but this is the first time we’ve considered its potential application to genetic diseases, such as many colorectal cancers,” says Bijan Almassian, PhD CaroGen CEO and co-Founder. “Dr. Rosenberg and his lab have been instrumental in providing technical know-how to further this research.”

Drs. Rosenberg and Almassian were introduced through a new entrepreneurship program funded by the National Science Foundation, Accelerate UConn, which aims to support the speedy and successful translation of research.  The program provides guidance and opportunities for inventors to hear directly from patients early in the development process to improve the chances of a product that can successfully treat people living with the condition getting to market.

“Already working with UConn’s world-class researchers in the Department of Immunology and now expanding their collaborations to include the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, CaroGen is able to tap a variety of experts with deep capacity that can be applied to the company’s targeted interests.  This enlightened approach can save the company time and money as it seeks to apply cutting-edge technology to provide critical solutions for patients across the globe,” said UConn Vice President for Research, Dr. Jeff Seemann. “Working with UConn offers the advantage of ensuring that Connecticut’s residents and the state economy are among the first to benefit from the company’s important work.”

CaroGen’s management team has a history of working successfully with both universities and industry.  The company’s proprietary technology was discovered at the Yale University School of Medicine by renowned virologist, Professor John (Jack) Rose and is patented. CaroGen has licensed worldwide exclusive rights for human and animal applications from Yale. The two recent filings of PCT applications encompassing improvements to the core VLV platform and its utility in HBV have solidified the technology.  Dr. Almassian earned a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry and has over 25 years of experience in the biotechnology industry.

Accelerate UConn and the Technology Incubation Program (TIP) are both operated by UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research to support economic development in Connecticut by leveraging the university’s technology resources. The recent opening of new incubator laboratories at UConn Health’s Cell and Genome Sciences Building adds 32 new labs, doubling the University’s incubator space.  TIP provides a place for startups to grow and develop, often with shared resources that reduce overhead costs and enhance business capacity. In the case of UConn’s incubator, companies have access to business services, mentoring and technical expertise unique to a research institution.