MU Awards $302,000 to Accelerate Biomedical Discoveries From Lab to Market

Dean Delafontaine at the 7th Annual Coulter Program Awards
Dean Delafontaine speaking at the 7th Annual Coulter Program Awards on Monday, October 22, 2018.

The University of Missouri’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program today awarded three grants totaling $302,000 to help promising medical discoveries make the transition from laboratory research to commercial investment and direct patient care.

“The University of Missouri is home to leading experts in all fields of engineering, medicine and business,” said Mark McIntosh, PhD, MU vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and economic development, and UM System vice president for research and economic development. “The Coulter Translational Partnership Program brings this expertise together with the goal of delivering practical solutions to pressing medical problems affecting our state, nation and the world.”

The MU Coulter Program began in 2012 as a five-year partnership with the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Although the partnership with the Coulter Foundation ended in 2017, leaders at MU decided to extend the program for five more years with a combination of university funding, grants and gifts.

As bringing engineers and clinicians together to develop solutions to unmet medical needs is a key premise of the Coulter Program, all MU Coulter projects include faculty members from the MU College of Engineering and the MU School of Medicine.

The three interdisciplinary research teams that received Coulter awards this year will use their award to fund the following research projects:

  • The development of a technology to improve upon heart magnetic resonance imaging techniques by allowing patients to breathe normally during the procedure rather than having to hold their breath — a task especially difficult for frail or elderly patients
  • The development of a low-cost, point-of-care test to assess testosterone levels in individuals undergoing hormone therapy and men with low testosterone with the accuracy of expensive lab-based test methods
  • A novel cryopreservation system to increase the length of time that transplantable hearts can be stored, giving more time to find optimal match donors and increasing the number of patients who receive a life-saving heart transplant

“Few universities share MU’s potential for saving and improving lives through translational research,” said Patrick Delafontaine, MD, Hugh E. and Sarah Stephenson Dean of the MU School of Medicine. “The Coulter Translational Partnership Program highlights promising research initiatives that show the exceptional work being done across our medical school and campus.”

MU’s Coulter Program provides annual awards to researchers whose projects demonstrate great scientific potential and meet a well-defined health care need. The projects are reviewed by a committee that includes entrepreneurs, accomplished researchers and venture capital investors.

“The Coulter Translational Partnership Program is a shining example of what an institution such as ours can do with a collaborative atmosphere and the proper resources,” said Elizabeth Loboa, PhD, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri and vice chancellor for strategic partnerships of the University of Missouri. “MU is one of only a handful of institutions nationwide that can claim a medical school, a veterinary medicine college and a college of engineering on the same campus. Having such a world-class, interdisciplinary faculty across our schools and colleges promotes biomedical innovation in ways that cannot be achieved elsewhere.”

MU is one of only 15 academic institutions in the country and the only university in Missouri offering a Coulter Translational Partnership Program. The 2018 Coulter Program awards were given to three teams with a total of 10 researchers to fund the following projects:

HeartSpeed: Fast Cardiac MRIs with the Freedom to Breathe

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging is used to detect and monitor cardiac disease and evaluate the heart’s anatomy and function. Cardiac MRI exams can last 45 to 90 minutes and require multiple 10- to 20-second breath holds by the patient. The procedure can be exhausting for patients, particularly frail patients with breathing difficulties who are unable to hold their breath.

HeartSpeed addresses this need by using software to eliminate the need for patients to hold their breath. Shorter procedure times enable increased efficiency and lower costs, making HeartSpeed a win for both patients and health care providers.

  • Robert Thomen, PhD, Departments of Bioengineering and Radiology
  • Steven Van Doren, PhD, Department of Biochemistry
  • Talissa Altes, MD, Department of Radiology

T-Meter: Sensitive, Low-cost Testosterone Testing at the Point of Care

The number of teens and adults in the U.S. who identify as transgender and gender-nonconforming is growing exponentially, leading to more patients presenting for care. However, individuals undergoing hormone therapy may only monitor their blood hormone levels one to two times a year, rather than the four to eight times a year necessary for optimal hormone therapy.

The availability of an accurate, low-cost, testosterone test would also enable men who have low testosterone to easily have their levels checked. The researchers are developing a portable, low-cost device that can accurately measure testosterone levels in a single drop of blood, similar to a glucose strip test system.

  • Maria Fidalgo, PhD, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Luis Polo-Parada, PhD, Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology
  • Liliana Garcia-Vargas, MD, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

Frozen Hearts: Novel Cryopreservation Media for Cardiac Transplantation

In the U.S., approximately 2,000 patients die while waiting for a heart transplant each year, and another 1,000 patients become too ill for transplantation surgery — despite the fact that 6,000 transplantable hearts are harvested each year. This is largely because donated hearts can only be stored for a maximum of six hours.

As a result of this short window, about half of transplantable hearts collected must be discarded. To increase the length of time donor hearts can remain viable for transplantation, the researchers are developing a new “nano-ice forming” cryopreservation medium, which would maintain the viability of donated hearts for days and possibly weeks.

  • Yuwen Zhang, PhD, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Xu Han, PhD, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Mike Hill, PhD, Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology
  • William Fay, MD, Departments of Medicine and Medical Pharmacology and Physiology

Since its inception, the Coulter program has helped MU research projects generate more than $14.5 million in new government grants and has led to the creation of 13 start-up companies, four of which have licensed a Coulter-funded technology. To date, these start-up companies have raised $2 million from early stage investors. Two start-ups have each raised more than $500,000, and another two Coulter technologies have been successfully licensed to established companies, for a total of four “Coulter wins.”

“The awards we announced today provide the funding needed to take promising biomedical innovations to the point where they can attract the investment required to turn the innovation into a product that will improve patient care,” said Cynthia Helphingstine, director of MU’s Coulter program. “Our Coulter program is a perfect example of the power of interdisciplinary collaborations at MU.”