U startup CEO recognized among “Titans of Technology”

Terri Soutor holding her Titans of Technology award

Photo courtesy of Jen Kelly, KeliComm

Terri Soutor, CEO of University of Minnesota startup FastBridge Learning, received an award last week recognizing her prowess in building a business around emerging technology.

At the 2017 Titans of Technology award ceremony, hosted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Soutor received an award for her leadership of FastBridge Learning, which was based on discoveries and innovations by Theodore Christ, Ph.D., educational psychology professor with the College of Education and Human Development. The company was launched with help from the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization in 2015 to provide assessment tools and training for teachers of preschool through 12th-grade students to track and improve their students’ learning. Continue reading

Two U startups named among Best University Startups 2017

U of M flag on a lamppost, surrounded by flowering trees

Two startup companies based on University of Minnesota research discoveries received national recognition today for their potential to create jobs, advance technology and meet societal challenges in human health and the environment.

Photonic Pharma and ThermChem, both launched by the Office for Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center, were named among the 40 “Best University Startups 2017” by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2), an association of university startup officers.

The U of M startups were chosen by representatives of leading technology-oriented businesses from a group of 200 startups launched by universities across the U.S. They are among the more than 110 companies launched by the Venture Center since 2006. The two companies will present as part of NCET2’s University Startups Conference and Demo Day in Washington, DC, on April 18-20. Continue reading

Improving nutrition apps with high-quality research data

A young couple looks at an app on a tablet while preparing food

Suppose a team of software developers wants to make a smartphone app that helps people with high blood pressure track the sodium in their meals. Their expertise in coding and design will guide them in making an app that is reliable and easy-to-use.

But when it comes to understanding how to tap research-grade nutrition data for a wide range of foods and ingredients, the developers may lack crucial knowledge in nutrition sciences.

The University of Minnesota’s Lisa Harnack, DrPH, director of the School of Public Health’s Nutrition Coordinating Center (NCC), has an idea that could knock down that barrier. Harnack aims to give app developers packages of code that will help them draw from the NCC’s Food and Nutrient Database, a treasure trove of comprehensive nutrition data, without needing a researcher’s expertise. This resource would bring developers better information to fuel their software—and, in turn, help patients living with nutrition-related chronic diseases. Continue reading

Recognizing the U’s most entrepreneurial innovators

Photos from four Inventor Recognition Award winners' research

Picture a researcher, and you might think of someone running experiments in a lab, collecting data in the field or piecing together a prototype. But for many researchers, the job doesn’t end when a discovery is made. Increasingly, researchers are helping guide their technologies through development and toward the market.

Last night, the University of Minnesota celebrated the accomplishments of some of these innovative and entrepreneurial researchers. The Inventor Recognition Event, hosted by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office for Technology Commercialization, recognized researchers’ breakthroughs and their efforts to bring these innovations beyond the lab to provide growth opportunities for businesses, benefit the public good and improve quality of life in Minnesota and beyond.

The event, held at the McNamara Alumni Center, recognized 220 University inventors whose technology had been licensed or patented between July 2014 and June 2016. During those two years, researchers submitted more than 750 disclosures of new inventions to OTC and filed for nearly 350 patents to protect the intellectual property behind some of these inventions. Continue reading

What slime molds tell us about ourselves

Some of Margaret Titus’s students are a little taken aback to learn how much they have in common with the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum. Called “social amoebae” for their habit of joining together to save themselves when food is scarce, they may hold the key to understanding how a host of human cellular processes work—or go awry.

When human white blood cells or metastasizing cancer cells move through our bodies, or when nerve cells are forming connections with each other, they send out slender exploratory extensions called filopodia. And when “Dicty” cells search for food, they do the same thing. If any of these cells’ filopodia pick up signals that point them in a favorable direction, the rest of the cell follows; this is what directs their movement to the food source.

“I call filopodia ‘the cat’s whiskers of a cell,’” says Titus, a professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development. “Proteins called myosins, which act as mo-tors for many cells, are needed to make them, and we found the same basic operating principles in filopodia-forming myosins used by both Dicty and humans.” Continue reading

Matching grad student skills with regional business needs

A group of students works together on a project

Business development, market research, product improvement—these are all top-of-mind for small- and medium-sized businesses looking to grow. And for a few of these businesses, they’re also where teams of University of Minnesota graduate students are lending a hand.

The Economic Development Fellows Consulting Program, sponsored by the Office of University Economic Development with support from the Graduate School, connects groups of four to five graduate student consultants with Minnesota companies looking to overcome business challenges.

Each group of students is led by an economic development fellow—a grad student who has already participated in the program as a consultant and will now help manage one of the projects, provide mentorship and facilitate communication between the students and their business clients. At the end of each eight- to 12-week project, the fellows report on the project’s economic impact, including how it has helped promote economic development. Continue reading

Bell Museum’s cooked wood highlights niche industry opportunity

Close-up of wooden planks

A few years ago, architecture firm Perkins+Will came to a conclusion while drawing plans for the new Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus: it was time to get cooking.

Now, following the architects’ design, workers are covering nearly half of the Bell’s exterior with Minnesota white pine that has been cooked in a giant kiln. The process, called thermal modification, is a chemical-free way to make wood more stable and water-resistant. Workers will finish installing the specialized wood in March, with the Bell Museum itself reopening in summer 2018.

The Bell project highlights an economic opportunity for Minnesota — and one where the Natural Resources Research Institute at the U of M Duluth plays a crucial role. Researchers involved in NRRI’s Wood Products and Bioeconomy initiative, which focuses on helping strengthen Minnesota’s forestry industry in an environmentally sound way, are leading research into the field of thermally modified wood. Continue reading

Bringing new drug therapies to life

A variety of pills

When the prescription drug abacavir, developed in University of Minnesota labs by Robert Vince, Ph.D., gained federal approval in 1998 and appeared on pharmacy shelves under the brand name Ziagen, it gave new hope to those with HIV. Today, the 1.2 million people the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates live with HIV nationwide have access to this treatment.

Bringing a breakthrough treatment like abacavir to the people who need it takes more than a groundbreaking scientific discovery — researchers must also work to refine their new treatments, bring them through clinical trials and help them reach the market.

Today, the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development (ITDD), founded by the  U’s College of Pharmacy in 2007, provides the expertise and instrumentation researchers need to bridge the gap between a compelling pharmaceutical idea and a market-ready drug treatment. The institute is a resource for the over 1000 biomedical researchers at the U of M and Mayo Clinic whose work may lead to the next breakthrough drug therapies. Continue reading

ApoGen receives $7 million investment for cancer therapy

Researcher in a lab

A University of Minnesota startup recently attracted a major investment to support continued development of drug therapies that make cancer treatments more effective.

ApoGen Biotechnologies Inc., launched in October 2014, announced last month that it had received $7 million from life science investment firm Accelerator Corporation to continue developing a new class of drugs that slows the evolution of cancer cells and to move these treatments toward clinical trials. ApoGen is based on discoveries by two U researchers: Reuben Harris, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics; and Daniel Harki, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. John Santini Jr., Ph.D., is the company’s president and CEO.

Cancer therapies often become less effective over time as cancer cells become resistant to treatment. ApoGen’s drugs are designed to block a key enzyme that causes drug resistance, potentially making current and future treatments more effective. Continue reading

Expanding the window for life-saving medical treatment

Rear view of paramedic's jacket

After a traumatic injury, every second counts. Whether wounded on the battlefield or hurt in a car crash, someone who has been severely injured needs to reach a hospital as soon as possible. But the farther away they are from one, the harder it is for first responders to get them there within the “golden hour” — the short window of time when life-saving medical treatments are most likely to succeed.

A drug therapy developed by three University of Minnesota researchers could extend this window, giving patients more time to reach the emergency room. The treatment, called BHB/M, is designed to be delivered by IV into the veins of someone suffering from hemorrhagic shock — when the body loses a severe and potentially fatal amount of blood — to help stop their organs from shutting down. Each year, between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the U.S. suffer from hemorrhagic shock. Greg Beilman, M.D., professor of surgery with the U of M Medical School and one of the BHB/M researchers, estimates that 45,000 to 60,000 of those people die from their severe blood loss.

Continue reading

Applying for federal funding to help commercialize discoveries

Image of a woman signing forms

Each year, the federal government offers about $2.5 billion in funding to help small businesses bring new innovations to market — including those originating from public research institutions like the University of Minnesota. The complex applications for such funding, however, can be challenging to understand and to navigate.

The MN-SBIR program aims to shed light on the process. The program assists seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms of up to 500 employees in accessing federal funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The office provides confidential, one-on-one guidance and advice in business development and technology commercialization to help those applying for SBIR or STTR grants or contract.  For University researchers, these funding sources can provide much needed funds to help bring cutting-edge discoveries beyond the lab and toward commercialization.

“SBIR and STTR funding supports research and development in science and technology across the spectrum of disciplines,” said Pat Dillon, director of MN-SBIR. “These federal funding sources, often in addition to angel investment or venture capital, but not necessarily, will help startups and small businesses continue to develop the technology and move it towards commercialization.” Continue reading

Patent roll call, fall 2016

Lightbulb drawing

Filing for a patent on a research discovery is more than just a way to protect the intellectual property behind it. Patents are often a crucial step toward moving breakthroughs beyond the lab and into the market, where they can benefit society.

Congratulations to the U of M researchers who were recently awarded patents for their discoveries. To learn more about reporting an invention, contact the Office for Technology Commercialization at 612-624-0550 or umotc@umn.edu. Continue reading