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MU Awards Grants to Advance Biomedical Discoveries

Coulter program pairs physicians, engineers to develop new health technologies

The University of Missouri’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program awarded six grants on Sept. 30, 2014, totaling approximately $600,000 to help launch biomedical research projects from laboratory study to health care innovations.

The six interdisciplinary research teams that received the awards each include a faculty member from the MU College of Engineering and the MU School of Medicine. The funded research focuses on topics ranging from identifying diseases to creating biomechanical joints.

“The partnership between the University of Missouri and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation is based on our common goal of transforming research discoveries into health care innovations that improve patients’ lives,” said MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. “The grants we are announcing today are evidence of MU’s culture of collaboration and dedication to innovation.”

MU’s Coulter program provides annual awards to research projects that demonstrate great scientific potential, meet a well-defined health care need and include a clinician from the MU School of Medicine and a faculty member from the MU College of Engineering. The projects are reviewed by a committee that includes entrepreneurs, accomplished researchers and venture capital investors.

“As a physician, I’ve spent my career treating disease and caring for people, so I can tell you first-hand how vital innovation is to the field of medicine,” said Les Hall, interim dean of the MU School of Medicine and professor of medicine. “Our goal with this program is to help researchers navigate through the innovation process and develop procedures and devices that benefit patients.”

Funding for the research projects is provided by a $5 million partnership between MU and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. MU is one of only 15 academic institutions in the country and the only university in Missouri offering a Coulter Translational Partnership Program. The 2014 Coulter program awards of approximately $100,000 each were given to six teams with a total of 11 researchers:

  • Wireless communication from outside to inside of the body. Randy Curry, the Logan Distinguished Professor in the MU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Center for Physical and Power Electronics, and Renee Sullivan, assistant professor of medicine at the MU School of Medicine, are creating implantable antennae for biomedical telemetry. In the next step toward commercialization, the investigators will work to modify current dielectric materials to obtain biocompatibility and incorporate them into a new telemetry design.

  • Identifying tuberculosis. Shubhra Gangopadhyay, the C.W. LaPierre Endowed Chair in the MU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and co-director of the MU International Center for Nano/Micro Systems and Nanotechnology, and Carole McArthur, professor of dentistry at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences and adjunct professor at the MU School of Medicine, have recently developed an inexpensive soft lithographic process for producing nano-ordered plasmonic gratings with electromagnetic field enhancements that are ideally suited for detection of tuberculosis infection.

  • Early breast cancer detection. Raghu Kannan, associate professor of radiology in the MU Department of Bioengineering, and Amolak Singh, professor and interim chair of the Department of Radiology at the MU School of Medicine, are working on a novel molecular probe for early detection of recurrent and metastatic breast cancer.

  • Engineered knee cartilage. Clark Hung, professor in the Columbia University Department of Biomedical Engineering, and James Cook, the William and Kathryn Allen Distinguished Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and director the MU Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory, are developing an engineered osteochondral allograft for knee cartilage.

  • Improved success rates of cartilage transplants. Ferris Pfeiffer, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery in the MU Department of Bioengineering and Orthopaedic Surgery, and James Stannard, the J. Vernon Luck Sr. Distinguished Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the MU School of Medicine, are working on a project to improve the success rates of cartilage transplants for patients with certain types of diseased joints. The investigators believe they can increase the amount of living tissue that survives the surgical procedure by modifying the shape of the transplanted portion of cartilage.

  • Gold nanoparticles for cancer detection. Raghu Kannan and Gerald Arthur, assistant professor of research in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences at the MU School of Medicine, are working on a system of using gold nanoparticles to detect cancers that are susceptible to particular types of chemotherapy.

“Thanks to our partnership with the Coulter Foundation, the scientists we are recognizing here today have the recipe for success to create partnerships, develop technologies and deliver improved medical care to patients,” said Bob Schwartz, interim dean of the MU College of Engineering. “I believe Wallace Coulter would be incredibly impressed by the collaboration of engineers and physicians to address complex health care needs.”

In addition to funding, the Coulter program supports scientists by connecting them with research and development experts from private industry and academia. Coulter scientists receive real-world advice on intellectual property protection, regulatory issues and market opportunities. They also engage with potential partners for financing and product development.

“MU’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program is also designed to help research become attractive for investment and ultimately commercialization,” said Cynthia Helphingstine, director of MU’s Coulter program. “The awards announced are designed to bridge the funding gap for promising research projects that have excellent market potential but require more investment to advance through the research and commercialization process.”


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