BOSTON — New technologies aimed at reducing patients’ and health-care workers’ exposure to drug-resistant bacteria, detecting important ocean data, and determining genetic disorders linked to autism and other medical conditions could get closer to market thanks to $250,000 in seed funding announced today by University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan.
Ten faculty research projects will each receive up to $25,000 from the Technology Development Fund, 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.
“As a public research university, UMass has a duty to drive innovation that strengthens the socio-economic fabric of our communities, nation, and world,” said President Meehan. “With these grants, we’re investing in world class faculty who are carrying out our mission through their cutting-edge discoveries, attracting the highest quality collaborators, and bringing the results of research to the marketplace.”
The Technology Development Fund awards provide supplemental funding to help close the gap between UMass research discoveries and proven technology that address the most pressing issues facing the region, the nation, and the world, often laying the groundwork for major breakthroughs.
“These faculty projects 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 $752 million in annual research and development in fields critical to the Commonwealth’s economy. Pre-pandemic, the university generated $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 nearly 18,000 faculty and staff members and more than 30,000 private sector jobs.
Since 2004, UMass has invested nearly $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 – $257 million over the last five years – and typically places among the top 25 universities in a national survey of income generated by technology transfer.
This year’s recipients of the $25,000 Technology Development Fund awards include:
Carlos Gradil, DVM, MS, PhD, DACT, Department of Veterinary & Animal Sciences — UMass Amherst: This project is advancing a new ‘frameless’ magnetic contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) based on physics and specifically designed to conform to a female’s body. The long-acting magnetic device offers the same efficacy as current IUDs, but with greater safety, easy insertion and removal, and reduced pain risks without the need for strings. The modified devices will include traditional copper coatings to make these IUDs capable of providing a reliable, nonhormonal contraception option.
Alexander Suvorov and Richard J. Pilsner, Department of Environmental Health Sciences — UMass Amherst: The team is examining how advanced paternal age at fertilization is a risk factor for many health conditions in offspring, including neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders and different forms of cancer. Researchers have developed a therapeutic intervention that resets encoded epigenetic information of sperm into a younger state. Significant demand is anticipated for these therapies that will restore “young” epigenetic program in sperm of older men to ensure healthy offspring.
Adam Grabell and Tauhidur Rahman, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences — UMass Amherst: The team has created EarlyScreen, a lab-based game and algorithm that detects the presence of psychological disorders in preschool children with a high degree of accuracy compared to commonly used diagnosis tools. Psychological disorders emerging in the first few years of life often persist across later developmental stages and into adulthood, resulting in significant impairment and societal costs. The emerging signs of psychological disorders are difficult to differentiate from normative misbehavior in early childhood, creating a “when to worry” problem for caregivers and providers. EarlyScreen’s algorithm automatically extracts features such as facial expressions, gaze, and head movement from video footage.
Jie Song, Department of Orthopedics and Physical Rehabilitation — UMass Chan Medical School
The team has developed StaphShield, a metallic implant-coating capable of on-demand release of antibiotics to prevent biofilm formation and bone infection caused by S. aureus, a type of bacteria found on human skin. The technology provides timely release of antibiotics to kill the bacteria before they have a chance to colonize the implant or invade surrounding bone. Researchers aim to tailor the StaphShield formulation as off-the-shelf dip-coatings where the drug load could be conveniently adjusted based on different clinical needs and the coating could be consistently applied to commercial implants by medical staff without altering implant manufacturing.
Joel D. Richter, Department of Molecular Medicine — UMass Chan Medical School: The Richter Lab team is researching Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), a genetic disorder that is the most common inherited form of intellectual impairment and most frequent single gene cause of autism worldwide. FXS is caused by a CGG triplet repeat expansion in the gene FMR1, resulting in the absence of the RNA binding FMRP. Children with FXS and an FMR1 mutation may have speech and development delays, hyperactivity, aggression, epilepsy, and other health issues. The team’s technology has discovered that white blood cells from FXS individuals 1 have altered RNA splicing, which serves as a statistically robust blood biomarker for the disorder that could facilitate the development of new therapeutic inventions to treat the disease.