2022: UMass System Announces $250,000 in Technology Development Fund Scholarships

New technologies aimed at reducing exposure of patients and healthcare workers to drug-resistant bacteria, detecting important ocean data and determining genetic disorders linked to autism and other medical conditions could closer to market with $250,000 in seed funding announced today by Marty Meehan, President of the University of Massachusetts.

Ten faculty research projects will each receive up to $25,000 from the Technology Development Fund, which helps commercialize scientific breakthroughs across all five University of Massachusetts campuses. The fund is overseen by the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV) of the UMass President’s Office in Boston.

“As a public research university, UMass has a duty to drive innovation that strengthens the socioeconomic fabric of our communities, our nation, and the world,” said President Meehan. “Through these grants, we are investing in world-class faculty who accomplish our mission through their cutting-edge discoveries, attracting the highest quality collaborators, and bringing research results to market. »

Technology Development Fund scholarships provide additional funding to help bridge the gap between UMass research discoveries and proven technologies that address the most pressing issues facing the region, nation, and world, often throwing the foundations for major breakthroughs.

“These faculty projects show how UMass continues to achieve long-term growth and achievement in its marketing business,” said Carl Rust, Executive Director of Industry Engagement and Business Developmentwho oversees the OTCV initiative.

The UMass system drives discovery and economic growth across the state, achieving $752 million in annual research and development in areas critical to the Commonwealth economy. Prior to the pandemic, the university generated $7.5 billion in economic activity statewide – a 10-to-1 return on investment by the Commonwealth. UMass supports nearly 50,000 jobs in Massachusetts, including nearly 18,000 faculty and staff 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, with the expectation that developing the technology will lead to a start-up or licensing agreement. Funding for the annual awards comes from commercial licensing revenue on previous faculty discoveries.

UMass continues to have a strong track record of generating revenue from the commercialization of its academic research — $257 million over the past five years — and generally ranks 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 are:

Carlos Gradil, DVM, MS, PhD, DACT, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences – UMass Amherst

This project advances a novel, physics-based, “frameless” magnetic contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) specifically designed to fit the female body. The long-acting magnetic device offers the same effectiveness as current IUDs, but with greater security, easy insertion and removal, and reduced risk of pain without the need for strings. Modified devices will include traditional copper coatings to make these IUDs capable of providing a reliable, non-hormonal contraceptive option.

Alexander Suvorov, PhD, and Richard J. Pilsner, PhD, Department of Environmental Health Sciences – UMass Amherst

The team examines how advanced paternal age at the time of fertilization is a risk factor for many health problems in offspring, including neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders and different forms of cancer. Researchers have developed a therapeutic intervention that resets sperm’s encoded epigenetic information to a more youthful state. Significant demand is anticipated for these therapies that will restore the “youthful” epigenetic program in the sperm of older men to ensure healthy offspring.

Adam Grabell, PhD, and Tauhidur Rahman, PhD, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences – UMass Amherst

The team created EarlyScreen, a game and laboratory algorithm that detects the presence of psychological disorders in preschool children with a high degree of accuracy compared to commonly used diagnostic tools. Psychological disorders appearing in the first years of life often persist through later developmental stages and into adulthood, resulting in significant impairment and social costs. Emerging signs of psychological disorders are difficult to differentiate from normative bad behavior 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 movements from video footage.

Amit Tandon, PhD, Department of Mechanical Engineering – UMass Dartmouth

There is a growing need for inexpensive devices that detect important subsurface ocean data (eg, temperature, salinity, currents) in the upper ocean. The Aurelia is a unique, easy-to-use design that advances the work done by a senior design team at UMass Dartmouth, mentored and guided by Dr. Tandon. Aurelia features a low cost depth control system to enable multiple dive/surface trips, an Android GUI for mission planning via Bluetooth, a mobile radio antenna for recovery and a smart charging system for redeployment fast.

Milana C. Vasudev, PhD, Department of Bioengineering – UMass Dartmouth

The team is developing a new high-throughput screening (HTS) technique that will use a photonic crystal surface Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrate to detect exosomes released by ovarian cancer cells. Electromagnetic enhancement using photonic crystals can improve SERS detection over traditional methods.

Mingdi Yan, PhD, Department of Chemistry – UMass Lowell

We have discovered a new powerful antimicrobial formulation against multidrug resistant (MDR) bacteria. The formulation consists of gold compounds and has several unique characteristics including broad-spectrum antimicrobial activities that are active against Gram-negative and Gram-positive pathogens. They are also active against SARS-CoV-2, making them superior candidates in the fight against “superinfections”. The researchers’ long-term goal is to complete the development of this technology to a stage where it can be licensed and taken to final development and clinical trials, resulting in a therapy for the treatment of severe MDR infections where antibiotics current ones are ineffective.

Weile Yan, PhD, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering – UMass Lowell

The project aims to develop sustainable solutions that address the critical need for more efficient lithium-ion battery (LIB) recycling technologies amid a growing electric vehicle (EV) market and a growing wave of used batteries in waiting for elimination. Less than 5% of LIB waste in the United States is recycled. At the heart of the technology is an electrodialysis machine equipped with custom Li-selective polymer electrolyte membranes that operate on low-voltage direct current that can be easily powered by renewable energy sources. The system is capable of converting the battery scrap mixture (i.e. black mass) into cobalt, nickel and lithium salts, or mixed metal ingredients for efficient battery remanufacturing.

Yuyu Sun, PhD, Department of Chemistry – UMass Lowell

The project team invented a new technology using N-halamine – a biocide with proven germ-killing properties – to reduce the burden of occupational exposure by protecting healthcare workers from harmful microorganisms that can cause various infections . This discovery treats hospital garments worn by nurses and other healthcare workers with the special antimicrobial function that can be easily monitored and recharged when needed, thus preventing serious complications in patients due to cross-contamination. The success of the proposed project will make the new technology more attractive for medical textiles and a wide range of other applications and more mature for commercialization.

Jie Song, PhD, Department of Orthopedics and Physical Rehabilitation – UMass Chan Medical School

The team developed StaphShield, a metal implant coating capable of releasing antibiotics on demand to prevent biofilm formation and bone infection caused by S. aureus, a type of bacteria found on human skin. The technology provides a rapid release of antibiotics to kill bacteria before they have a chance to colonize the implant or invade the surrounding bone. Researchers aim to adapt the StaphShield formulation as ready-to-use dip-coatings where drug loading could be conveniently adjusted based on different clinical needs and the coating could be applied consistently on commercial implants by medical personnel without altering the manufacture of the implants.

Joel D. Richter, PhD, Department of Molecular Medicine – UMass Chan Medical School

The Richter Lab team is studying fragile X syndrome (FXS), a genetic condition that is the most common inherited form of intellectual disability and the most common monogenic cause of autism worldwide. FXS is caused by repeated expansion of the CGG triplet in the FMR1 gene, resulting in the absence of RNA-binding FMRP. Children with FXS and an FMR1 mutation may have speech and developmental delays, hyperactivity, aggression, epilepsy, and other health problems. The team’s technology discovered that the white blood cells of FXS 1 individuals have impaired RNA splicing, which serves as a statistically robust blood biomarker for the disorder, which could facilitate the development of new therapeutic inventions to treat the disease.

News and Public Information, Research