AMIPurdue supports delivering university-led life science technologies to the marketplace

February 14, 2012

AMIPurdue officials and researchers with Purdue's Brain Injury Prevention (BIP) project (BIPP) discuss their concussion-related research and its commercialization potential during a weekly update meeting at AMIPurdue offices in Discovery Park's Hall for Discovery and Learning Research. Pictured, clockwise from left, are John Hertig, Rizaldi Sistiabudi and Patrick Schexnailder of AMIPurdue, and Anne Zakrajsek, Eric Nauman and Darryl Dickerson of BIP. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue mechanical engineering professor Eric Nauman is not surprised by the spotlight focused on concussions in today's sports world.

Working with professors Thomas Talavage and Larry Leverenz, the team is partnering with AMIPurdue to create better shock-absorbing materials to improve helmets for contact sports and the military that could reduce the severity of blows to the head.

"By bringing together researchers from several disciplines across the Purdue campus, we are developing and commercializing a technology that we think can have a significant impact on society in reducing the number of injuries connected to concussions," says Nauman, an expert in central nervous system and musculoskeletal trauma. "AMIPurdue has been essential in helping us move this technology closer to reality."

The Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at Purdue University, known as AMIPurdue, was established in 2007 with support from the Alfred Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering. Its mission is to commercialize Purdue-developed life science and biomedical technologies by providing start-up funds that can bridge the gap between research and the rapid commercialization of these innovative efforts in the laboratory.

"Through AMIPurdue and our entrepreneurially minded faculty members, Purdue is changing how a 21st century university translates research more quickly into viable commercial products and processes in the life sciences sector to create jobs and spark the overall economy," Purdue President France A. Córdova says.

Key to its success is working closely with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization and Purdue faculty and student innovators to cross what's known as the "valley of death" - those difficult steps that can impede commercialization. Without funding and other business assistance, potentially life-changing technologies may languish in a scientist's laboratory after years of research and little notice for commercialization.

"We have a unique model for a public university because we're focused on commercial products that can generate revenue," says John C. Hertig, executive director of AMIPurdue. "It all starts with Purdue faculty who have entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to develop their innovative, life-saving technologies so they can be used to help people and improve the quality of life of patients.

"Our job is to move research out of the laboratory, across that valley of death and into the commercial markets where it is desperately needed."

Jessica Huber, left, an associate professor in Purdue's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and graduate student Meghan Moran demonstrate a new technology developed in Huber's lab that helps Parkinson's disease patients overcome the tendency to speak too quietly. The system, called SpeechVive, works by playing a recording of ambient sound, which resembles the noisy chatter of a restaurant full of patrons. A sensor placed on the neck detects that the person has begun to speak and tells the device to play the babble through an earpiece worn by the patient. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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Since early 2008, AMIPurdue has invested more than $10 million in direct development expenses, intellectual property filings, regulatory and policy consultation, marketing, and other business planning costs, Hertig says. The 11 technologies so far stem from disciplines all across the Purdue campus - from electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering to analytical chemistry, chemistry, pharmacy, and speech, language and hearing sciences.

Funding - up to $100,000 in initial support - can be available in just a few weeks after a faculty member talks over a plan with the five-member AMIPurdue team. While faculty members focus on developing the science and technology, AMIPurdue provides seed funding and business resources to further develop their ideas or discoveries.

There's one clear distinction, however. AMIPurdue does not fund research. Rather, it provides business focus in support of commercialization efforts, such as funding to develop a prototype or conduct preclinical and clinical studies. If development efforts resulting from initial funding are successful, follow-on funding has been approved by AMIPurdue's board of directors ranging from $250,000 to $2.2 million.

"AMIPurdue's goal for each project is to increase the likelihood of commercial success by adding value through industry-standard design and development skills and financial support," says Steve Mogensen, managing director for AMIPurdue. "We meet with a lot of faculty on campus. If we find a technology we believe addresses an unmet or poorly met need with potential for a significant impact in health care, we ask the faculty member for a detailed presentation."

Leading the initiative is a 10-member board composed of officials from the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering and Purdue that meets once a year. The six-member AMIPurdue Operating Committee drawn from those board members meets more regularly to outline and discuss more immediate milestones and progress on current projects.

In its first four years, four companies – QuantIon Technologies Inc., SpeechVive Inc., ImpactGuard and BioRegeneration Technologies LLC - have been created and spun out of AMIPurdue, all based on faculty-led research that had been translated into a development program and is on its way through the commercialization process. A look at four current AMIPurdue projects:

QuantIon Technologies – Simple and Rapid Analysis through Mass Spectrometry

Professors R. Graham Cooks and Zheng Ouyang are developing a device for increasing the speed and efficiency of therapeutic drug monitoring, known as TDM. Several generations of mini-mass spectrometers have been developed by Purdue through years of research, and a revolutionary "paper spray" ambient ionization technology has been created.

Advancing the effort for personalized medicine, the technology is designed to improve procedures used to determine the amount of active therapeutic drugs in a person's bloodstream and enable immediate, point of care (POC) measurement and adjustment of a specific active drug level.

Traditional TDM requires collecting a sample of blood at one location and submitting it to a clinical laboratory to be processed. The technology developed by Ouyang and Cooks will make it possible to process the blood sample almost instantly in the hospital, doctor's office or clinic location where it was collected using a small "finger prick" blood sample.

Benefits range from a lower cost per test to clinical benefits that include immediate patient feedback reflecting the active level of a drug in the bloodstream, according to Ouyang, an assistant professor in Purdue's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Cooks, the Henry B. Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in the College of Science.

"Using this technology, the active drug level for a cancer patient can be measured in real time, and medication can be adjusted to a maximum clinically effective level with a minimum of negative side effects," Ouyang said.

Taking such risks has benefited both Cooks' lab and Purdue. Patents and technologies spawned in Cooks' lab today generate royalties and $2 million in annual research funding for the university. Though "mass spec," as its practitioners call it, is not exactly a household phrase, the discipline produces much of the technology used to develop new drugs.

"Mass spectrometry has proven quite good at analyzing successively more complex molecules for the past half-century," says Cooks, the 2005 winner of Purdue's Outstanding Commercialization Award for his contributions to mass spectrometry and a career of commercialization efforts.

"Its ability to characterize and quantify individual chemical components is an essential step in drug development. But about a decade ago, we realized we needed instruments that are smaller in size, gentler on the increasingly fragile molecules pharmaceutical scientists and biotechnologists work with, and capable of directly analyzing complex mixtures."

SpeechVive – Reviving Speech & Improving Lives

Purdue professor Jessica Huber has received AMIPurdue support to develop a technology, called SpeechVive, to help patients with Parkinson's disease overcome the tendency to speak too quietly and with poor enunciation by playing a recording of ambient sound that resembles the noisy chatter of a restaurant full of patrons.

"People with Parkinson's disease commonly have voice and speech problems," says Huber, an associate professor in speech, language and hearing sciences. "At some point, patients will develop a speech disorder that generally occurs a little later in the disease."

Parkinson's affects 1.5 million people in the United States and is one of the most common degenerative neurological diseases. About 89 percent of those with Parkinson's have voice-related change, which is related to how loudly they speak, and about 45 percent regarding how clearly they speak.

"A major therapy is to get people to speak louder, which also may cause them to articulate more clearly," Huber says.

A critical part of the research is to integrate the voice-detection sensor, or an accelerometer, developed in work led by biomedical engineering doctoral students Matias Zanartu and Julio C. Ho, and biomedical engineering professor George Wodicka, head of Purdue's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. Jim Jones, engineering resources manager at Purdue, and senior research engineer Kirk Foster led the design of the first-generation of SpeechVive that was used in the human clinical trials.

ImpactGuard – Traumatic Brain Injury Prevention

Professors Nauman, Talavage and Leverenz, as part of their Brain Injury Prevention (BIP) Project, are examining whether impacts might impair the brain, even if the player or soldier shows no clinical signs of a concussion.

Findings also could aid efforts to develop safety guidelines that stipulate the number of hits a high school football player could sustain and may help determine techniques that coaches and players might use to reduce the severity of blows to the head.

"We defined what properties the ideal material should have and then we engineered it," says Nauman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. "The new ImpactGuard material absorbs at least twice as much energy as normal padding in helmets. We are pretty jazzed about it."

Nauman and his students have studied the materials using a specialized impact-testing laboratory operated by Weinong "Wayne" Chen, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and materials engineering.

Over the past two years, the researchers have evaluated players using helmet sensors and a type of brain-scanning technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, along with a neurocognitive-screening test. The fMRI scans reveal which parts of the brain are most active during specific tasks that the players perform.

BioRegeneration Technologies

Nauman's research also has paved the way for the launch of BioRegeneration Technologies LLC, a life sciences company in the Purdue Research Park led by Nauman and Darryl Dickerson, who received his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from Purdue.

BioRegeneration is developing a naturally derived biomaterial scaffold for tissue regeneration following an injury or natural joint wear. The therapy is designed to catalyze healing, restore function and regenerate damaged tissues.

BioRegeneration's proprietary Regen-C product is placed in a damaged joint surface and its porous material absorbs nutrients from surrounding areas to facilitate the body's natural healing processes, repair the injured joint and prevent osteoarthritis. The technology is based on Dickerson's graduate research, which was performed under Nauman's direction.

"With current treatments, patients get temporary pain relief and scar tissue forms, but eventually it breaks down. There is no long-term durability, which leads a patient either to partial or total joint replacement," said Dickerson, co-founder of BioRegeneration Technologies.

"We have found in our preclinical studies that Regen-C creates a durable joint surface. This success is due to the fact that Regen-C mimics the natural transition between bone and cartilage. It is the only technology of its kind that has this continuous transition."

In November 2011, BioRegeneration received $12,500 for placing third in the seventh national Purdue University Life Sciences Business Plan Competition for its efforts to develop this biomaterial therapy product. In 2009 the company won $15,000 for its second-place finish in the open division at the 22nd annual Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition.

Richard Buckius, Purdue vice president for research, said Purdue is a recognized international leader for education and research through its support of high-tech facilities for research, such as Discovery Park, and commercialization drivers, like AMIPurdue and the Purdue Research Park - all aimed at advancing new discoveries.

"Faculty want to make a difference, they want to have an impact. They want to see their ideas employed to benefit humankind," Buckius said. "And I'm excited that more faculty are engaged in technology transfer and commercialization efforts through university-led initiatives such as AMIPurdue, Discovery Park and the Purdue Research Park."

Purdue's success at spinning off startup companies - with the help of AMIPurdue, Purdue Research Park, Discovery Park, the OTC and other university-affiliated commercialization efforts - is gaining national and international recognition, says Joseph B. Hornett, senior vice president, treasurer and COO of the Purdue Research Foundation, which operates the Purdue Research Park network.

The Association of University Technology Managers ranks Purdue No. 6 nationally for its commercialization successes in the 2010-11 fiscal year. The Office of Technology Commercialization, through the Purdue Research Foundation, had 11 startups in the period. The University of Utah ranked first with 18 startups.

"We have a successful track record of moving our discoveries from the laboratory to the market, and it completes the cycle of 'Discovery with Delivery' in the university's strategic plan," Hornett said.

In addition, for every $100 million of research expenditures, Purdue ranks first in invention disclosures, new patent applications, and number of license and option agreements, according to 2008 Big Ten data. Hornett says that faculty and the Purdue Research Foundation are credited with spinning out more than 75 startup companies and licensing hundreds of technologies to industry over the past 15 years.

"I see technology transfer as one of the primary missions of the university, and working on applications as well as basic science also gives our students more varied career options," Cooks says.

"It's demanding because you're not just tossing an idea out there and hoping somebody will pick it up, but you're also taking the first steps toward turning it into something that will have a practical application in the near future. The work is thrilling because along with the risk of failure, you also get the chance to make a broader contribution."

AMIPurdue was launched through the efforts of the California-based Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering and the generosity of Alfred E. Mann. The first institute became fully operational in 2002 at the University of Southern California. The second was established in October 2006 at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

The Alfred Mann Foundation is a philanthropic organization that establishes and supports university-based institutes for life science product development. It has the primary goal of expediting the commercialization of compelling life science technologies for the benefit of humankind. The foundation is located in Valencia, Calif.
Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources:  France A. Córdova,

                  John Hertig, 765-838-0670,

                  Steve Mogensen, 765-494-8316,
                  Eric Nauman, 765-494-8602,

                  Darryl Dickerson,

                  Zheng Ouyang, 765-494-2214,

                  Jessica Huber, 765-494-3796,

                  Graham Cooks, 765-494-5263,

                  Richard Buckius, 765-494-6209,

                 Joseph Hornett, 765-588-1040,

Related website:

Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship