Congratulations! Northeastern University’s innovative research honored with MTTC award!

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Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center announces $195,000 in seed funding for faculty research projects Acorn Innovation Fund aids in commercializing scientific breakthroughs across the Commonwealth

BOSTON — New technologies at Massachusetts research institutions could get closer to market thanks to $195,000 in seed funding announced today by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) Acorn Innovation Fund.

Thirteen awards of $15,000 each were given to faculty researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, MIT, Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts and Western New England University to assist them in advancing the viability of their technologies and potentially bringing their research to market.

“We are gratified to receive MTTC Awards contributing to Northeastern’s leadership in the commercialization of cutting-edge research, and we remain deeply committed to advancing technologies benefiting the Commonwealth and beyond”, stated James C. Bean, Provost, Northeastern University The MTTC Acorn Awards are funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and overseen by MTTC. MTTC enables public and private research universities and medical centers in Massachusetts to lead the nation in translating basic research to the market, creating jobs and spurring economic development.

“Congratulations to Vedang Chauhan, PhD, of Western New England University on receiving his second Acorn Award to continue developing his E-CVT system for small engine applications,” said Senator Eric Lesser. “This vital work proves that innovation is alive and well in the Pioneer Valley and that partnership with our institutions across the Commonwealth can give opportunities to curious minds to help foster a forwardthinking community.”

This year’s recipients, selected from a field of 24 applicants, were chosen for their project’s technical merit, commercial viability, project plan and strength of team, according to Vinit Nijhawan, interim executive director of MTTC.

“The strength of the selected projects demonstrates that Massachusetts leads the nation in translating basic research to the market,” Nijhawan said.

This year’s recipients of the MTTC Acorn Innovation Fund awards are as follows: Benjamin Sanchez, PhD; Mai Le Libman Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center “Innovative diagnostic solution to assess nerve and muscle health” Haystack Diagnostics, Inc., is a medical technology device company, spun out from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) – Harvard Medical School that has invented a new patent-pending needle diagnostic technology that will improve the diagnosis, monitoring, and therapeutic treatment of those patients suffering from nerve and muscle disorders. Acorn funding would allow Haystack to complete part of Phase 2 which includes, human needle design, software & hardware dev, manufacturing selection, regulatory design & assessment and pre-clinical before the regulatory approval process.

Michael J. Cima, PhD, David H. Koch Professor in Engineering Massachusetts Institute of Technology “Personalization of Radiation Therapy Dose Planning” A quantitative tissue oxygen sensor has been developed that is made completely of silicone and is biocompatible, passive, implantable, and wireless. The sensor is measured non-invasively using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and addresses the unmet medical need for an oxygen measurement technique that is direct and quantitative, enables repeated measurement, and that integrates well with the current clinical workflow. The Acorn grant will be used to address a key technical question regarding sensor exposure to radiation. Data collected would provide necessary support for the use of this sensor in radiation oncology applications and define acceptable use conditions (e.g. amount of radiation exposure).

Sidi A. Bencherif, PhD Northeastern University “Hypoxia-inducing cryogels as a fast and inexpensive technology for hypoxic cell culture conditions” Hypoxic cell culture conditions are desirable for basic research, drug screening, regenerative medicine and biopharmaceutical production. However, current technologies for maintaining hypoxic cell cultures are lacking or too expensive. To address this unmet need at a very competitive and attractive pricing, hypoxia-inducing cryogels (HICs) have been developed which deplete oxygen within 10 minutes in cell culture and continuously deplete oxygen as they enter cell culture media, maintaining hypoxia while allowing scientists to perform routine cell culture procedures. The Acorn funds will be used to make the product ready for commercialization by evaluating HIC’s in their performance in different cell culture conditions and compared to commercial products, simultaneously.

Carolyn W. T. Lee-Parsons, PhD Northeastern University “The Production of Chemotherapeutic Drugs from the Periwinkle Plant” Vinblastine (VBL) and vincristine (VCR) are chemotherapeutic drugs in critical supply globally, currently obtained through a semi-synthetic process involving the initial purification of the more abundant precursors in the leaves, catharanthine (C) and vindoline (V), and followed by a reaction that combines these precursors. These essential medicines are extremely expensive and their supply limited and unpredictable, as it depends on the C and V produced that year from field-grown plants. In this invention, the plants are grown under controlled, special conditions that increase the production of the
precursors in the leaves and these leaves are then treated or processed so that C and V react enzymatically under special conditions to produce the anti-cancer drugs via a simpler, greener process that reduces production cost and yields a predictable and consistent supply of these essential medicines. The Acorn funds will be used to obtain data to ascertain how competitive the enzymatic process is compared to the semisynthetic process and improve the enzymatic conversion of the precursors to VBL and VCR by optimizing the reaction conditions.

Yanzhi Wang, PhD Northeastern University “Real-Time Acceleration of Deep Learning Applications on Mobile Edge Devices” Deep learning or deep neural networks (DNNs) have become the fundamental element and core enabler of ubiquitous artificial intelligence. The current DNN execution frameworks on mobile edge devices support only a small subset of DNNs, and the performance is far from real time with many important types of DNNs, like recurrent neural networks useful in natural language processing and video understanding, not supported. These limitations are overcome with the development of an acceleration framework of deep learning applications, which can achieve real-time performance using currently available mobile and edge devices. This crosslayer optimization framework has full vertical integration of algorithm, compiler, and hardware levels. The Acorn funds will be utilized for making demonstrations on a smartphone for four key applications (and DNNs): speech recognition, object detection in video input, human activity detection, and natural language processing, key to a successful path to commercialization.

Vedang Chauhan, PhD Western New England University “Continuing development of an Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) System for Small Engine Applications” This project is an extension of Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) System for Small Engine Applications that was funded by a prior Acorn grant which helped the design, build and testing of the E-CVT on a dyno table. The E-CVT was then mounted on a vehicle and during extensive testing, a determination was made of the improvements/redesign needed to make it more reliable and efficient. These Acorn funds will be used to continue development of the E-CVT technology to make it ready for commercialization.

Andrew H. Fischer, MD University of Massachusetts Medical School/UMASS Memorial Medical Center “UMASS Improved Microbiopsy Device” For the foreseeable future, diagnosis and treatment planning for diseases like cancer still require a physical biopsy to be removed from the patient. Biopsies can be much smaller due to many recent technology developments, however, currently available microbiopsy devices are still considerably bigger than needed and have functional flaws. A series of microbiopsy devices were developed and human tissue samples studies using a UMASS IRB approved docket which led to the identification of a surprisingly simple, yet novel structural modification that is essential for smaller scale devices to work properly. The final microdevice appears more effective than existing biopsy devices for breast, pulmonary, head and neck, GI, soft tissue, lymph nodes, and prostate and fits readily into many clinical applications with only a 510k regulatory landscape. The Acorn grant will be used to pay for a final, smaller-scale device to incorporate the innovation, thereby permitting quantification of its advantages in an ex-vivo clinical trial that can be efficiently carried out at UMASS which would directly contribute to the goal of marketing the device through licensed acquisition.

Craig Martin, PhD University of Massachusetts Amherst “Device for Enzymatic High-Yield Flow Synthesis of Pure RNA”
The proposed technology will allow continuous flow synthesis of large quantities of highly pure RNA for applications across the rapidly expanding field of RNA therapeutics (and beyond, to RNA nanotechnology, including both in vitro and in vivo diagnostics). The result is a relatively simple flow device that accommodates single use fluidics cartridges, with proprietary reagents (possibly embedded directly in the cartridges). By eliminating off-pathway reactions from the outset, this approach will increase yields and largely eliminate labor intensive purification, but more importantly, will eliminate technology-limiting impurities that are not readily removed with existing technologies. The Acorn grant will allow the demonstration of full functionality in a relatively simple fluidics system. Demonstrated success of reduced immunogenicity will allow for sourcing additional funding to tune the system for yield, purity, ease of use, and economics.

Yong K. Kim, Ph.D., Chancellor Professor of Bioengineering University of Massachusetts Dartmouth “Creating the Ultimate Ballistic Body Armor (UBBA) Material Structure” Personal wearable Ballistic Body Armor (BBA) is now a common and strategic component in today’s law enforcement and military communities. Existing personal BBA garments, while may be ballistically effective, are thick, heavy, bulky, cumbersome, do not provide adequate breathability and do not effectively absorb sweat and manage body heat. To overcome these shortcomings, existing textile materials technology has been applied to address the deficiencies in present BBA configurations and to create an Ultimate BBA (UBBA) configuration which will culminate in the creation of a final commercialize-able UBBA garment structure. The Acorn funds will be used to support the BBA material development effort to assure that the consummation of a licensing agreement becomes a successful reality.

Anna Yaroslavsky, PhD University of Massachusetts Lowell “Quantitative Cytopathology of Thyroid Cancer” A novel technology has been developed for real-time, definitive detection of cancer cells in Fine Needle Aspirates (FNAs) of thyroid nodules using fluorescence polarization (Fpol) imaging of methylene blue (MB) stained cells. Current standard of care for diagnosing thyroid nodules, cytopathology, already relies on the analysis of single cells, but suffers from high rates (~40%) of indeterminate results. This innovation addresses the fundamental limitation of thyroid cancer detection and will generate sufficient clinical data from thyroid cells to demonstrate commercial viability of this novel method of cancer detection for thyroid cells. The Acorn funds will be critical for the successful demonstration of the path to commercialization.

John Hunter Mack, PhD; Mengyan Shen, PhD University of Massachusetts Lowell “Impact of Nanostructures on Spark Plug Performance” The technology presents a novel approach to improving the efficacy of spark plugs, serving to expand operational regimes and reduce lifetime costs. The approach relies upon surface modifications that introduce nanostructures on the electrodes, thereby increasing the effective surface area and modifying the discharge properties. The potential impact of improved spark plug emissions is decreased emissions for SI engines, improved engine efficiency, decreased reliance of fossil fuels, and a reduction in operating costs. In addition to enabling leaner combustion and improved combustion modes, increasing the lifetime of spark plugs is extremely important in stationary power generation systems. The Acorn funds will be used to further understanding of nanostructuring, optimization of spark plug performance via different surface properties, and extensive testing aimed at further validating the approach.

James Reuther, PhD;
Onur Apul, PhD University of Massachusetts Lowell “Self-Healable, Regenerable Polymer Adsorbents for Low-Energy, Reusa-ble Water Filters” The innovation is the development of novel polymer nanosphere networks crosslinked using thermally reversible, dynamic covalent bonds for their application as low-energy, regenerable adsorbents for water filtration systems. Plan for commercialization is through design of prototype water filter cartridge that can be marketed to the general public as readily reusable water filters that can be regenerated simply by soaking in boiling water. The Acorn funds will be used to continue investigating nanosphere synthesis protocols and network formation and begin preliminary adsorption testing with priority pollutants.

Wan-Ting (Grace) Chen, PhD University of Massachusetts Lowell “Biocrude oil and Biobased Polymer Production from Sewage Sludge via Hydrothermal Liquefaction” Every year, it costs $2B to handle sludge in the U.S. A novel technology coupling wastewater treatment and valuable bioproduct generation is proposed to solve this problem using hydrothermal liquefaction to convert sewage sludge into biocrude oil or biopolymer. This technology can recover up to 60% of the current U.S. renewable biofuel energy from the U.S. wet biowaste and lower greenhouse gas emissions by 78-85%. With the help of Acorn funding, this technology can be transformed into a prototype that can visually help potential customers understand the technology.

MTTC, housed at UMass President’s Office, was founded in 2003 by the Legislature to accelerate research commercialization at Massachusetts’ public and private research institutions. MTTC enables Massachusetts research universities and medical centers to lead the nation in translating basic research to the market by smartly connecting superior science and technology to an unmatched pool of business talent and capital.

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