Seed-funding aims to commercialize scientific breakthroughs across the five-campus UMass system
BOSTON - New technologies aimed at improving prostate cancer diagnosis, enhancing employment services for job seekers with disabilities, and optimizing clinical use treatments for melanoma patients could get closer to market thanks to $250,000 in seed funding announced today by the University of Massachusetts.
Ten faculty research projects will each receive up to $25,000 from the Technology Development Fund, an initiative which helps to commercialize scientific breakthroughs throughout the five-campus University of Massachusetts. The fund is overseen by the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV) at the UMass President’s Office in Boston.
The Technology Development Fund awards provide supplemental funding to help close the gap between UMass research discoveries and proven technology that address local, national and global challenges.
“These faculty innovations showcase how UMass continues to realize long-term growth and achievement in its commercialization enterprise,” said Carl Rust, Executive Director of Industry Engagement and Business Development, who oversees the OTCV initiative.
The UMass system drives discovery and economic growth throughout the state, conducting $813 million in annual research and development in fields critical to the Commonwealth’s economy. The university drives $7.5 billion in statewide economic activity – a 10-to-1 return on investment by the Commonwealth. UMass supports close to 50,000 jobs in Massachusetts, including 24,000 faculty and staff members and more than 30,000 private sector jobs.
Since 2004, UMass has invested $3 million in faculty R&D projects through the Technology Development Fund. Projects are chosen for their commercial viability, in hopes that development of the technology will lead to a startup company or licensing agreement. Funding for the annual awards comes from commercial licensing income on previous faculty discoveries.
UMass continues to have a strong record of generating income from the commercialization of its academic research – $294 million over the last five years – and typically places among the top 25 universities in a national survey of income generated by technology transfer. UMass campuses make over 90 core research facilities available to start-up companies to facilitate job-creating innovation.
This year’s recipients of the $25,000 Technology Development Fund awards are as follows:
Amir Arbabi – College of Engineering - UMass Amherst
This project is developing a low-cost prototype of programmable photonic chips (PICs) set by micro and nanoscale. Academic and industry have pursued various approaches for reconfiguring photonic chips, but they have been hindered by their high-power consumption, large device footprints, and limited reconfigurability. The proposed reconfigurable PICs enable highly desirable devices and systems such as lidar transceivers, large switches for optical communications, optical quantum computers, and AI accelerators.
Siyuan Rao – Institute for Applied Life Sciences - UMass Amherst
This project aims to provide a better soft materials solution for recording neural activity and administering drugs in mobile nerve regions. These hydrogel-based neural probes will be used for long-term electrophysiological recordings in injured spinal cords, with their soft hydrogel structure matching the mechanical properties of nerve tissues. This enables signal collection during movement, facilitating tracking of spinal cord recovery and testing pharmacological interventions. Funding from the OTCV development fund would support these studies and further research into human spinal cord injury treatments.
Govind Srimathveeravalli – College of Engineering - UMass Amherst
The UMass Amherst team’s technology generates a “liquid sample” which will allow physicians to extract biopsy samples from entire tumor volumes in a predictable fashion. This first-of-its-kind device improves prostate cancer diagnosis among the growing population of men who will experience the disease. The proposed work will perform refinements to the waveform used for extracting the genomic material from cells, with the goal of making our technique suitable for use in office-based clinic settings with minimal sedation requirements.
This proposed activity will be coupled with ongoing translational testing of our prototype device with clinical partners. Short-term goals are focused on a startup company to license the technology for commercialization.
Alberto Migliore and John Butterworth – Institute for Community Inclusion - UMass Boston
The team has developed the ES-Coach, a smartphone-based tool which helps specialized employment consultants visualize their support, set goals and improve the quality of their individualized services for adults with disabilities. OTCV grant funding will boost the ES-Coach data dashboard redesign, making it more user friendly and effective so that employment consultants can implement best practices and assist job seekers with disabilities in their career goals. For more: www.es-coach.org/.
Hangjian Ling and Pia Moisander – Department of Mechanical Engineering - UMass Dartmouth
This proposal aims to develop a technology to reduce marine biofouling – micro-organisms that accumulate on ocean-submerged surfaces, producing adverse impacts on unprotected vessels, naval fleets, offshore infrastructures and undersea sensors. Marine biofouling increases friction resistance, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The UMass Dartmouth team invented a technique based on the combination use of water-repellent super-hydrophobic surface on a porous base, which sustains the air layer on underwater surfaces by continuous gas injection. They expect that the new technology could serve as the next generation of anti-biofouling coatings for the marine industry.
Nese Orbey and Carl Lawton – Francis College of Engineering - UMass Lowell
Lithium-ion batteries have emerged as a front-runner technology to overcome the future energy crisis and help mitigate climate change. Current lithium-ion battery technology relies on graphite to store electrical energy in the form of lithium ion in one of the electrodes but is limited by the amount of lithium that can be bound by the graphite. UMass Lowell professors Orbey and Lawton have discovered a synthetic biological process for the formation of synthetic graphite that will demonstrate the higher density of energy storage using their patent-pending process for making PPP fibers, which have shown to store three times as much lithium-ion compared to existing technology. This fibrous structure will incorporate higher amounts of lithium-ion to form synthetic graphite for use as electrode materials in lithium-ion batteries.
Weile Yan – Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering - UMass Lowell
Safe, efficient, and environmentally focused disposal of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) and recovery of critical minerals in the battery waste are key to the sustainable growth of the battery industry. Existing LIB recyclers use conventional thermal and hydrometallurgical methods to recover minerals. In this project, the team aims to continue current research into new, scalable technologies that recover valuable minerals from LiB waste in an energy-efficient, environmentally focused way. This will enable a robust technology that can cater to a diverse mix of feedstock including manufacturing scraps and end-of-life LiB batteries.
Anna Yaroslavsky – Department of Physics - UMass Lowell
We propose to address the problem of planning and dosimetry of nonsurgical cutaneous cancer treatments using rapid, noninvasive optical polarization imaging technology. We have already constructed our imaging device and evaluated it for the preoperative assessment of nonmelanoma skin cancer margins in a surgical setting. The goal of this project is to extend the use of our technology to guiding radiotherapy and methods to monitor tumor response.
Edwin D. Boudreaux – Department of Emergency Medicine - UMass Chan Medical School
The Research Catalyzer (RCat) helps solve the problem of sifting through hundreds or even thousands of patients to identify and enroll patients who are good candidates for clinical studies. In real time, RCat pre-identifies individuals being treated in healthcare settings who meet study eligibility criteria using two “tagging” strategies: (a) live data feeds matched to study criteria from the health system’s EHR (Epic), which automatically screens out those who are ineligible and flags those who should be prioritized for approach, and (b) enabling easy “tagging” of potentially eligible patients by clinicians and research staff. This provides research staff with a more efficient and cost-effective way to identify good-fit patients. The OTCV funding will allow us to add features that will help RCat do an even better job by sharing data with other research software.
John Harris, Anastasia Khvorova, Hassan Fakih and Qi Tang – Department of Dermatology - UMass Chan Medical School
Immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapies have revolutionized clinical approaches to patients with melanoma and other solid tumors. Melanoma responses following treatment with PD-1 inhibitors approach 40%, with many responders achieving long-lasting remission. However, responses require having an immune active “hot tumor”, while the majority of patients exhibit “cold tumors”, where immune cells do not infiltrate, leading to poor treatment response. We previously determined that targeting the gene AIM2, a cytoplasmic DNA sensor, in immune cells using siRNA technology, followed by injecting these cells into melanoma model led to better ICI therapy outcome when using anti-PD-1 antibodies. However, this is a cumbersome approach to treat patients. We recently discovered that we can achieve similar benefits by injecting AIM2-siRNA systemically when using a new chemical scaffold for the drug. This project will focus on developing an effective treatment for melanoma that is convenient for use in the clinic. This work has the potential to benefit melanoma patients who do not respond to ICI therapy, which constitutes over 60% of the patient population.