2016 Commercialization Award Showcase

The Commercialization Award Showcase caps the end of a unique funding period. Two programs, the Commercialization Grant Award and BioENGINE & BioAccel Fellowship, granted awards to faculty and student teams, respectively, to encourage commercialization of innovations from all fields of research and stimulate entrepreneurship at UCI. The faculty and student teams presented an update on their projects and the commercialization milestones achieved over the summer at the Commercialization Award Showcase at the Cove.

In January 2016, Applied Innovation, in collaboration with the Office of Research and the School of Medicine, selected UCI faculty to be awarded Commercialization Grants through the Technology Development Innovation Fund.  In contrast to traditional “proof of concept”-centered research, this funding was meant to assess commercial feasibility within a six month funding period and focus on “proof of product.”  Funding was provided to teams for the specific use in prototype development and validation studies of projects already in progress. The projects chosen for the award were selected because of the high technical merit of the science, the advanced stage of the project, and the commercial potential.  Of the $500,000, collectively contributed by Applied Innovation, the Office of Research, and the School of Medicine,  awards of up to $50,000 were distributed to 6 faculty teams based on the merits of their commercialization development proposals. Upon achieving specific development milestones, these teams were eligible for an additional $25,000 in funding. In addition to the monetary award, the groups were also provided access to the resources at Applied Innovation, such as IP management by the Invention Transfer Group (ITG) licensing officers and entrepreneurial mentorship by Cove Experts-in-Residence (EiRs). 

The BioENGINE program is an undergraduate capstone course that connects biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship. In this two-quarter course, student teams proposed and crafted devices with applications in healthcare and disease diagnostics and therapeutics. At the end of the academic year, the 20 participating teams pitched their inventions at the BioENGINE Device Design Symposium (see July 2016 Cove Currents Newsletter), where three teams were awarded a summer fellowship and stipend to continue working on their projects towards a commercialized product. The awards, contributed by Applied Innovation and BioAccel, were given to teams K9 BioWalk, Opticom, and Syntr Health Tech.

2016 BioENGINE & BioAccel Fellowship Awardees

K9 BioWalk:
Jocelyn Chau and Sean Gutierrez have engineered prosthetic devices for dogs that suffer from limb deformities caused by osteosarcoma, congenital defects, or traumatic accidents. The devices are biomechanically compatible, incorporating joint-mimicking hinges and treaded soles for traction and shock-absorption to address the unique needs of dogs.  They have also included pressure sensor technology for tracking and assessing the usage by the animal and their rehabilitation progress with the device. During the yearlong BioENGINE course, the team created early prototypes focusing on the material strength, comfort, and overall ease and practical use of the prosthetic.  The early custom designs were tested with a dog born with underdeveloped legs. Upon receiving the Fellowship, they have continued to design other prosthetic iterations using rapid prototyping 3D printers, and have improved the sensor technologies to optimize function in a more compact size.  In the future, K9 BioWalk will further test the device on active animals, perform market research studies, and expand the business to include other tools for enhancing pet health and mobility.

Marco Robles, Priyanka Ganesh, and Amin Gosla presented on behalf of the Opticom team, outlining the goals of their chemotherapy monitoring device company, their recent progress, and aims for improving healthcare in the future.  Opticom designed a device enabling real-time monitoring of metabolic levels of tissues for assessing breast cancer and progress through treatment. The device tracks tumor size using diffuse optics to measure tissue hydration. This summer, they have progressed in the assembly of a new prototype that is composed of high-quality hardware components and have conducted software validation using patient data sets. They plan to continue optimizing the device and create a liquid hydration index for clinical comparisons. This innovative device has applications for monitoring cancer, but also could be a tool for studying a number of health- and disease-related processes.

Syntr Health Technologies:
Ahmed Zobi represented the Syntr Health Technologies team at the Commercialization Grant Showcase.  Syntr’s lab-on-a-chip device is a microfluidic technology that mechanically sorts stem cells for applications in diabetes care. The Syntr team has not only developed the core technology, but has also outlined a strategy for getting the device to market in an efficient manner that tailors to the needs of a healthcare provider. The technology is comprised of a reusable “syntrfuge” device that sorts cells in a small, consumable disk or chip.  The BioENGINE & BioAccel summer fellowship has provided Syntr the funds and resources, such as the Cove’s prototyping lab to create the early designs of their unique sorting device. Currently, the team is preparing for early animal studies and communicating with the FDA regarding future clinical studies of their device.

2016 Commercialization Grant Awardees

Abraham Lee
Abraham Lee’s research group has developed a method for taking “liquid biopsies” for cancer diagnostics. In this approach, a patient’s blood sample, rather than excised tissue, is processed in a microfluidic device.  The device is intended to be a diagnostic tool, employed to separate blood components and enrich for rare cells, such as Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs).  Identification of CTCs informs clinicians of a cancer’s progression. CTC’s found in the blood indicate that a primary tumor is metastasizing, or spreading to other tissues in the body.

Prior to receiving the Commercialization Grant, the Lee lab had generated and tested early versions of the blood separating device. In preliminary studies, they demonstrated that the flow of blood cells through the device’s channels could be controlled using a specialized design and acoustic energy.  The movement of cells, therefore, could be predicted and exploited for separation. The goals of the researcher’s summer work were (1) to optimize the materials used in the device to make it amenable to large-scale manufacturing, and (2) to optimize the separation parameters in this new version.  In the recent months, with the assistance of the commercial-directed funding, they were able to construct a new iteration of the device in a more stable and sturdy material, and successfully demonstrated high-throughput separation and enrichment of rare CTCs. Prof. Lee has a patent pending on this technology and continues to optimize the system for use in clinical settings. For more information contact: Alvin Viray: aviray@uci.edu

Ahmed Eltawil
Ahmed Eltawil’s mission is to create technology for enhancing the efficiency and capabilities of telecommunication systems.  Current duplex communications, the systems that connect and transfer information between two entities, are limited in their ability to communicate simultaneously in time and frequency.  The implication of this type of system is that the range and total capacity of the network is restricted. This means that not as many users are capable of being supported in an efficient and reliable manner. Prof. Eltawil’s research group has developed a full duplex system, one that is neither time- nor frequency-dependent and addresses the limitations of current methods.  By simulation, they have shown that the number of users from a single access point can be doubled and range extended, while maintaining throughput of information.  Furthermore, their approach is compatible with existing infrastructure and does not require costly changes.  Funding provided this year allowed the researchers to develop a prototype system and initiate testing and optimization for transmission of large data sets.

Prof. Eltawil has founded a new company, Lextrum, to further advance this technology, develop strategic partnerships, and perform large scale field testing. For more information contact: Doug Crawford: doug.crawford@uci.edu

Michael Demetriou
Michael Demetriou seeks to marry a fundamental understanding of cancer biology with innovative immunology approaches to address the unmet needs in medicine. One research trust of the Demetriou lab is in developing new classes of immunotherapies. They have conceptualized a platform technology that directs the body’s immune system toward tumors. In the past year, the researchers generated a promising therapeutic molecule, dubbed GlyTR, as one component of the platform. Their immune-mediating molecule is bispecific, capable of binding an immune cell on one end and the target tumor cell on the other.  It is similar to an antibody, but is a much smaller molecule, is amenable to scalable production, and binds a novel, widely-expressed cancer antigen.

Recent research in the Demetriou lab, pushed forward by the Commercialization Grant, focused on initiating in vitro studies.  They showed that this molecule, with the help of immune cells, kills diverse types of cancer cells such as B cell lymphoma, myeloma, and colon, liver, breast, and cervical carcinomas.  Prof. Demetriou and EiR Raksha Shah have founded a company around this technology, GlyTR Therapeutics, with plans to progress the methodologies and move it forward with in vivo validation studies. For more information contact: Maria Tkachuk: mtkachuk@uci.edu

Aimee Edinger
Aimee Edinger, along with UCI collaborator, Prof. Stephen Hanessian, are also interested in curing cancer, but are employing an approach that targets the internal pathways of tumor cells. The investigators have explored a class of small molecule natural products, sphingolipids, as novel anticancer drugs.  These molecules act on the lysosome function of cells.  The lysosome, a stomach-like organelle of a cell, is a key regulator of cell growth and is vital to the exponential growth of a cancer’s proliferation. Prof. Edinger’s group has shown that sphingolipids inhibit the ability of the lysosome to function normally in tumor cells, thus arresting their growth.With additional funds this year, they were able to test the promising drugs against human samples, both in xenografted mouse models and 3D cell culture. This first round of in vivo studies resulted in greater than 90% inhibition of tumor growth. With this highly promising preliminary data, Prof. Edinger and researchers will work to uncover the molecular mechanisms of action of sphingolipids, as well as continue in vivo experiments to explore efficacy, toxicity, and potential use in combination therapies. For more information contact: Casie Kelly: casiekq@uci.edu

Jeffrey Krichmar
Jeffrey Krichmar has created a novel technology for supportive treatment of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The impetus for developing such a tool is clear after Prof. Krichmar lists simple a statistic: 1 in 68 children are currently diagnosed with ASD; meaning of the 2.5 million children living in Southern California, roughly 37,000 are affected with ASD.  Both the emotional and financial expenses are of concern as families and clinicians attempt to treat children with ASD-associated sensory motor impairments and social interaction issues. 

The technology developed by the Krichmar research group is a neuromorphic robot that can be employed in clinical or home settings to give patients a tool to practice sensorimotor skills. Prior to receiving Commercialization Grant funding, the researchers had developed an early version of the robot that integrated light and sound elements as well as some movement. In recent months, they have developed a new, more fluid iteration of CARBO, with an accompanying user-friendly software and games or training modules installed on a tablet computer.  The robot, referred to as CARBO, short for Caretaker Robot, is designed with the appearance of a cheerful, cartoon turtle to make it more approachable for patients.  An important clinical feature of the robot is that it  collects data on the interactions and responsiveness of the users.  This year, the researchers, in collaboration with UCSD’s Research on Autism and Development (RAD) Lab, tested the device in a clinical setting with children with ASD.  With momentum building for this technology, Prof. Krichmar projects that CARBO will be in production, with  full integration in clinics and homes, within the next two years. For more information contact: Michael Harpen: mharpen@uci.edu

Malcolm Leissring
Malcolm Leissring, and Maksim Plikus, Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, are generating novel drugs that have both medical and cosmetic applications.  They are interested in creating inhibitors of an insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), a protease that is implicated in not just the glucose metabolic pathway, but also in wound healing and skin care.  IDE inhibitors that have been produced to date are difficult and costly to synthesize, and their toxicity and efficacy are not well studied.  Profs. Leissing and Plikus have designed peptide-based inhibitors of IDE that are less expensive to produce, more stable, safer for use in topical applications, and are, most importantly, highly selective and effective.  Recent studies, in part facilitated by the Commercialization Grant, showed increased wound healing in mice.  The proposed mechanism of healing is that the designer peptides inhibit IDE, which sustains insulin concentration, in turn promoting the increase in a collagen, the primary matrix material of new tissue.  Future research will include expanding in vivo studies and human clinical trials. For more information contact: Casie Kelly: casiekq@uci.edu

Hai contributes to the Cove as a content writer for both the Currents newsletter and blog. As an alumnus of UCI with a degree in English and a co-founder of a local creative agency, Hai's focus is centered on spotlighting events, stories, and startups within the Orange County community. He is passionate about entrepreneurship and has participated in fast-pitch competitions through the UCI Antrepreneur Center and has co-organized local business and startup groups such as 1 Million Cups and Orange County Young Entrepreneurs.