October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center announces $195,000 in seed funding for faculty research projects

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

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 grants of $15,000 each were awarded to faculty researchers from Boston University Medical Center, Northeastern University, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts and Western New England University to assist them in testing the viability of their technologies and potentially bringing their research to market.

The MTTC Acorn Awards are funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and overseen by MTTC. Hosted at the UMass President’s Office, 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.

“These awards help bring promising research to market for the benefit of the Commonwealth, which is central to our economic development mission,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “We are thankful to the Legislature for establishing the Commonwealth’s Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund, which makes these grants available.”

This year’s recipients, selected from a field of 53 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.

“Tufts University’s faculty and researchers are committed to innovation and making a positive impact on the world, and MTTC’s support helps us advance those causes and speed the introduction of important discoveries to market,” said Tufts University School of Engineering Dean Jianmin Qu.

This year’s recipients of the MTTC Acorn Innovation Fund awards are as follows:

Vedang Chauhan, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Western New England University

“Design and control system optimization testing of an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (E-CVT) system for small engine applications”

To improve fuel efficiency and performance, Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) technology is being used in modern vehicles. In high horsepower vehicles (> 200 HP), CVT is implemented using oil hydraulics. The small engines cannot meet the power requirements to run hydraulics. The goal of this project is to build, implement and test an E-CVT system for small engines. The funding will be used to design a new dynotable experimental setup, procure parts to integrate electro-mechanical system, and test the E-CVT for endurance, reliability and performance.

Jingzhou (Frank) Zhao, Ph.D.

Western New England University

“Production of silica-coated metal nanoparticles using electrospraying”

Silica-coated metal nanoparticles will be produced using electrospraying method for the first time to achieve much lower manufacturing cost and much higher throughput than existing methods. Acorn funding will support the team’s research activities, materials, supplies and the use of material characterization tools such as SEM, TEM, XRD, etc, to obtain proof-of-concept evidence to validate the claimed competitive advantage of the new invention.

Assistant Prof. Manos Gkikas, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Peptide scaffolds coordinate with Alzheimer’s disease drugs

Asst. Prof. Manos Gkikas, along with Asst. Prof. Phanourios Tamamis from Texas A&M, are studying the discovery of vehicles for delivery of current AD drugs, which is critical for slow release of drugs after administration. The novelty of their technology stems from the capturing of AD drugs into a drug delivery peptide carrier, designed (computationally and synthesized experimentally) specifically for each FDA-approved AD drug, so as to achieve higher delivery-to-target and an increase in the drug effectivity in vivo, which seems to be the top problem of current drugs. Using the Acorn grant, the designed materials will be tested as AD drug carriers initially in vitro (proof of concept) in buffered solutions, plasma and blood, which will accelerate our research for sequential in vivo studies, using proper animal models.

Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D.

Tufts University

“Assessing drug capacity of macroporous microneedles”

The Tufts team plans to develop a new class of microneedles that can provide high drug loading capacity and reliable skin penetration. Through this support, the team will perform a parametric study to model and quantify the drug release behavior.

Byung Kim, Ph.D.;

Yubing Sun, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

“A SERS-based immunoassay for cancer biomarkers detection”

Drs. Kim and Sun have developed a novel SERS-based antigen detection system that can quantify the concentration of biomarker with ultrahigh sensitivity, reproducibility, and low cost. With Acorn funding, they hope to improve the technology so that it can be used to detect cancers in their early stage to increase the survival rate of patients. The funding allows them to test their technique to detect four different type of cancers: lung, liver, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

Onur Apul, Ph.D.;

James Reuther, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Lowell

“Modular polymer-immobilized nano-enabled device for lead capture from drinking water distribution systems”

This Acorn project is going to partially support one graduate student in Spring 2019 to conduct preliminary tests using carbon-based adsorbents and compare lead removal performances from real or simulated tap waters. The project is going to realize this set of data for development of hybrid fibers envisioning custom, pipe-like lead filter cartridges as an end product.

Blair Perot, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

“Wind turbine power augmenter”

This device increases the power of wind turbines, especially when they are located near each other. This grant will be used to perform wind tunnel demonstrations of the effectiveness of the technology.

Matthias Scheutz, Ph.D.

Tufts University

“Developing a prototype system for instruction-based feeding”

The overall goal of their research is to develop software for a robotic arm that allows the arm to autonomously pick up food from a plate and bring it to the person’s mouth in exactly the way the person prefers. Scheutz’s team will adapt their machine vision tools and implement recognition algorithms for different food items and adapt their current grasping capabilities to be able to use tools like spoons and forks for manipulating food

items. And they will adapt their software interface to the two available commercial robotic arms they plan to use in this project.

Caitlyn Butler, Ph.D.;

Simos Gerasimidis, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

“3D printed biomimetic biofilm supports for treatment systems”

Wastewater treatment processes in the U.S. and globally are antiquated and struggling to meet emerging demands. Adoption of large-scale biofilm treatment systems is increasing because they are physiologically robust and intensify conventional suspended growth treatment. With the support of the ACORN funds, the team will design 3D-printed microtrusses to emulate the mechanical properties of biofilm, creating a low-density, high-strength biofilm supports that could retrofit and improve existing infrastructure by increasing longevity, promoting diffusion through and resisting predation of biofilms.

Hongwei Sun, Ph.D.;

Jin Xu, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Lowell

“A low-cost, ultra-sensitive and label-free diagnostic tool for biomolecular interaction analysis”

An innovative sensing mechanism was discovered by the UML team that is based on a resonant phenomenon between QCM substrate and polymer microPillars (QCM-P), which demonstrated ultrahigh sensitivity for measuring binding kinetics of human IgG to anti-human IgG. The goal of project is to further demonstrate the detection capability of QCM-P sensors by measuring drug-like protein interactions, which is the current area of high interest to biopharmaceutical companies.

Steven C. Borkan, M.D.;

Zhiyong Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

Boston University; Boston University Medical Center

“Point-of-care diagnostic for acute kidney injury”

This project will generate a novel phospho-antibody to be incorporated into a point-of-care urine dipstick. This dipstick provides a low-cost diagnostic for detecting early cell damage that contributes to acute kidney injury and will initiate interventions to preserve kidney health.

Ramaswamy Nagarajan, Ph.D.;

Jayant Kumar, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Lowell

“Bio-based intumescent flame-retardant coating for military apparel applications based on synergistic combination of tannic acid and phytic acid”

This project will the creation of sustainable and non-toxic flame retardants for nylon/cotton fabric using a synergistic combination of tannic acid and phytic acid. The tannic acid/phytic acid formulation will be optimized and fabric samples coated with

these materials will be characterized using standardized vertical flame tests. This project broadens the scope of utilization of abundantly available and non-toxic bio-based polyphenols and phosphorus compounds as intumescent char-forming FR coating for textiles.

Amy Mueller, Ph.D.

Northeastern University

“PRISM: Better ocean data for better ocean management”

Ocean ecosystems are deeply connected to both global food supplies and the economies of coastal communities, however sustainably managing fisheries requires collection of high-resolution measurement of nutrients to feed into ecosystem productivity models. The PRISM sampler enables trace nutrient measurement at 10-100x higher resolution than existing technologies at 10-20x lower cost, therein facilitating collection of data more cost effectively and more widely. MTTC funding will support detailed engineering validation to a depth of 200m, as well as set the stage for field validation in summer 2019.

About the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center

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


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