CURF awards grants to faculty to accelerate commercialization of technologies 

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The Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) has announced seven researchers will receive Technology Maturation Fund grants to support the last critical step in development. The projects supported by this fund include: prototype and minimal viable product development, bench to scale up activities to generate material samples for application testing, beta field testing, and pre-clinical studies.

“The Technology Maturation Fund is a unique program that affords researchers the opportunity to further develop their technologies through licensing or industry collaboration,” said Chris Gesswein, CURF’s Executive Director, “Since the launch of the program in 2014, CURF has awarded over $870,000 in maturation funds to Clemson researchers. The success of the Fund’s Principle Investigators, which has generated significant follow-on research dollars, and the execution of multiple commercial licenses for the technologies funded through this program are strong indicators of the positive impact this program has had on the Clemson University research enterprise.”

This year’s awards range from $5,000 to $60,000 and were granted to:

  • Kendall Kirk, precision agriculture engineer in the Edisto Research and Education Center: to pursue construction of five pre-production hay yield monitor prototypes to be used in test and evaluation field trials. The monitoring system, which can be retro-fitted to existing hay balers currently in the market, will allow hay growers to generate precision yield data for zones within a specific field.
  • Alexey Vertegel, associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering: to further develop a polymeric coating that can cling to metal implants. The technology can significantly reduce the burden of orthopedic implant pin site infections through the utilization of highly adhesive anti-microbial drug-eluting polymeric coatings.
  • Liang Dong, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering: to create efficient all-solid photonic bandgap fiber lasers based on a three-level laser scheme system. The system, which operates at a 976nm wavelength, will improve scale precision processes in industrial micro-machining.
  • Igor Luzinov, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering: to further develop a textile dyeing and finishing technology, created in conjunction with the University of Georgia (UGA), for exceptionally efficient and sustainable textile dyeing machinery using nanocellulosic (NC) fibers. The refined technology will decrease the amount of water, salt and alkali used in cotton/blended fabric dyeing processes to mitigate the environmental impact of these by-products.
  • Jiro Nagatomi, professor in the Department of Bioengineering: to work to develop a novel mesh-adhesive system for abdominal hernia repair by combining a bifunctional polyamine hydrogel adhesive with a surface modification technology. This method does not have the drawbacks of traditional processes used to repair abdominal hernias and will be valuable in delivering a patient-specific solution for hernia repair.
  • Dan Simionescu, professor in the Department of Bioengineering: to continue development of vascular grafts that are resistant to diabetes. Numerous surgeons use small diameter synthetic grafts during bypass surgery to salvage failing limbs or hearts in diabetic patients; however, many of these grafts fail dramatically in diabetic patients. This targeted approach solves the unmet need for “off-the-shelf” graft solutions that are resistant to complications associated with diabetes.
  • Christopher Post, professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation: to further develop a commercial color sensor smart-phone application that can be used for automated soil evaluation. Assessment of soil color has traditionally been accomplished visually by matching soil color with printed color ‘chips.’ This innovative color sensor will greatly improve the accuracy and reproducibility of the soil classification process.

Clemson University Research Foundation
The Clemson University Research Foundation manages technology transfer for Clemson’s thriving innovation environment. Established in 1981, CURF is a 501(c)(3) corporation founded exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. CURF operates for the benefit of, to perform the functions of and to carry out the purposes of Clemson University. CURF is governed by a board of directors who are leaders in the public and private sectors.

CURF will be accepting applications for the fiscal year 2020 Technology Maturation Fund this spring, the RFP release and proposal deadlines to be announced. For more information, visit curf.clemson.eduor contact the CURF office at curf@clemson.edu.

 

Clemson researcher named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

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As a member organization with over 4,000 members worldwide, The National Academy of Inventors is dedicated to supporting inventors in academia.  The NAI Fellows program was established to highlight academic inventors who have created novel innovations. The program currently has over 1,060 fellows from 250 universities and governmental and non-profit institutions. Every year, the NAI inducts a robust class of inventors into the Fellows program. In 2018, Clemson University’s very own Dr. Apparao Rao, was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Joining the ranks of over 1,000 NAI Fellows, Dr. Rao is the third Clemson faculty member to receive this honor.

A long-time inventor and innovator, Dr. Rao received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Kentucky in 1989 prior to serving as a post-doctoral research associate at MIT. During his time at Clemson, he founded (and still directs) the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute. Currently, Dr. Rao serves as the R. A. Bowen Professor of Physics and the associate dean for discovery of the College of Science. In addition to the NAI fellowship, he is also a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

While at Clemson, Dr. Rao has made a significant impact on the University research enterprise with his work in nanomaterials. His research has explored many different aspects of nanomaterials with functions ranging from ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerators (U-TENG) to electrochemical energy storage. These technologies can lead to a greener, more sustainable future. True to the goals of the NAI, Dr. Rao’s technologies have contributed to quality of life and welfare of society.

With the induction of esteemed faculty like Dr. Apparao Rao, the NAI continues to highlight academic inventors whose technologies have bettered the world.  The NAI Fellows together hold over 36,000 issued U.S. patents, which have produced over 9,000 licensed technologies and companies.  Their efforts, technologies, and discoveries have made a positive impact on research and will continue to change the world.

Proving their mettle: Clemson bioengineering students create titanium detector for breast cancer surgery

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The best ideas can come at the oddest of times.

Just ask oncology surgeon Nancy DeMore. While performing a lumpectomy, she asked herself why there wasn’t an easier way to do the procedure that wouldn’t involve two invasive procedures.

DeMore, who’s also a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), says it really wasn’t even a conscious thought. She just heard the question come out of her mouth and thought, Why not find out? And she knew just where to find a possible solution. She had done a talk at the 2015 Women’s Innovation Symposium at MUSC and met another presenter, Delphine Dean.

She was impressed by Dean, who holds a degree from MIT in electrical engineering and computer science and directs the Multiscale Bioelectromechanics Labat Clemson University. Instead of just passing off her idea, she picked up the phone.

She described the problem to Dean. When a patient has an abnormal mammogram and the radiologist takes a biopsy for a suspected cancer, a titanium clip is inserted to mark the tumor’s location. If the patient needs a lumpectomy, the patient goes to radiology where a wire is inserted into the breast to find the titanium clip. She then goes to the operating room, where the surgeon removes the breast tissue around the wire. This two-step process is inefficient and inconvenient for patients, and sometimes it’s painful.

Titanium is used because it’s not magnetically strong, so patients can have MRIs in the future and they won’t set off metal detectors at airports.

DeMore’s question: Would it be possible to make a metal detector that could detect titanium? Her hunch was that if the surgeon could find the location of the titanium clip in the operating room with the metal detector, it would eliminate the need for the wire.

Dean rose to the challenge, pitching the idea to students in her bioinstrumentation class who were intrigued by the project. Ideas and plans flew back and forth between MUSC and Clemson, with a group of Clemson students taking on the task and spending long hours in the lab.

Over time, all the brainstorming and work paid off. In August 2016, a patent was filed on the resulting hand-held detector. The prototype is set to go through pre-clinical trials and potentially will be on the market for use in two years, DeMore said.

Meanwhile, the idea and resulting design is getting rave reviews and winning awards. DeMore presented the ideaat the Charleston Southeast Medical Device Association Pitch Rounds competition at MUSC’s Drug Discovery Center, an event sponsored by MUSC and the Foundation for Research and Development. She won and now will be going on to compete in Atlanta later this month.

DeMore said it was a tough competition. “There were some other outstanding technologies that were equally as worthy, so I was really surprised. I’m really impressed with the technologies that are being developed in this region.”

DeMore also recently presented at the Society of Surgical Oncology’s “Innovations in the Operating Room” and won that competition.

DeMore noted she isn’t the only surgeon frustrated by a process that’s inefficient and inconvenient for patients.

“Surgeons constantly have ideas how to improve techniques because we’re the ones who are doing this every day. Many times we may have the ideas, but we have no idea of how to implement, so we just go on to our next patient.”

In this case, DeMore is glad she didn’t. It’s important for surgeons to be interested in bringing innovations to their field, she said, and the innovation competitions help.

“I’m so pleased to see the Society of Surgical Oncology put together the first session on innovations in the operating room, really highlighting the importance of this in our field.”

Team Science

What also really helps, though, are collaborations, DeMore said, adding how impressed she was with Dean’s team.

Dean agrees. “Sure, Clemson and MUSC are four hours apart, but it doesn’t feel that far apart. The Clemson-MUSC collaboration works really well. We make a lot of effort in our state to bridge that gap in the biomedical space.”

She’s seen the payoff with her students when they have the opportunity to work on real-world projects. “When you learn in a classroom by looking at slides and listening to lectures, it is very different from talking to a clinician who uses these devices,” she said.

Dean says she knows patients who’ve had to undergo the two-step process for a lumpectomy and how scary it was for them. It is gratifying to work on a project that will improve that experience and lower costs and her students benefitted from the clinical knowledge they got from DeMore, who has been very responsive. How well the device is being received has surprised all of them. “It blew up, and there’s been a lot of interest from the outside. It was eye-opening for the students. The MUSC tech transfer office moved things forward quickly.”

The project challenged her students. It took a “lot of tuning” and customization for clinical purposes and computational modeling, but the team kept working.

Clemson University senior Scott Slaney said it’s the most rewarding thing he’s ever done during college.

“We do a lot of learning about basic science behind these concepts, but seeing how all these moving pieces fit together to make a single working device is really a cool experience. To actually take something that sounds like it only has a few engineering principles and make it work in a medical environment is its own kind of beast to tackle. I was happy to learn about the need for this procedure and what seems to be an underserved community of the population,” he said.

Dean said students often bring passion to their projects, as can be seen in the students who worked on the project, including Slaney and classmate Joey Wilson, Clemson’s senior class president. As bioengineering students, they want to find creative solutions to problems within medicine, Wilson said.

“This is our ‘why’. This drives us and reminds us that this project is much bigger than ourselves. It could make a significant impact on the clinical cycle of care for hospitals and breast cancer patients, saving time, money and operating room space while preventing unnecessary human suffering.”

He really enjoyed the challenge of the project and taking a problem that no one has tackled to date.

“It’s why the status quo has been maintained for so long. For us, the reasoning of ‘It’s the way it has been done for a long time,’ is not sufficient. At Clemson and MUSC, I truly have surmised that we are thinkers, we are innovators and we are believers.”

Wilson said the project, though challenging, brought amazing opportunities to the team. The collaboration with DeMore and their research mentor, Dean, was critical. The team also learned how broad the field of bioengineering is, he said, adding that what they had to learn about metal detectors went far beyond the basics of their bioinstrumentation class.

“We had to find creative ways to educate ourselves about metal detectors and all of the components that make them work. The idea behind them is relatively simple, but all of the ways that operational metal detectors are created are complex and were out of the scope of our curriculum,” Wilson said.

When it got tough, team members reminded each other why they were there, Wilson said.

“We’re inspired by the opportunity to improve patient outcomes and change lives for the better. In the uphill battle against cancer, we’re making a little progress, and hopefully scientists will one day find a cure.”

Dean said she expects to see more of these collaborations in the future, particularly given how well this one worked.

“There’s no better way to teach our students than the real-world environment. It’s a win-win.”

It’s a win for MUSC as well, said DeMore. “It can save the patient from having to have the pain and inconvenience of having an invasive procedure to localize the clip, and it can improve the efficiency of the whole procedure for the patient and the hospital.”

*This article was originally published on the Clemson Newsstand. Read the full article here.*