A possible treatment for Alzheimer’s. Bone implants with antimicrobial properties. A gummy electrolyte that would make batteries safer. Fuel that only gives off water as a byproduct.
These are all emerging technologies and treatments that began in research labs at Washington State University, and were showcased at Seattle industry events over the summer.
The innovation and trained workforce produced by public universities make them key parts of a state’s economy. Innovation and talent are what attract new business and capital to a region, and WSU partners with local industry and businesses to provide both. One way WSU creates those partnerships is by being an engaged member of two key trade associations: the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association and the CleanTech Alliance. Both organizations host conferences over the summer that bring together their sector’s key business, investment, and research leaders.
This year WSU had its largest presence yet at both Life Science Innovation Northwest (LSINW) and the CleanTech Showcase – with a total of 21 diverse innovations presented by faculty and graduate students, and a show-stopping display at LSINW that featured 125 years of WSU’s life science innovations.
All of the researchers who presented at the events are working with WSU’s Office of Commercialization, which encourages and supports researchers in their endeavors to take discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. The OC staff works with WSU researchers on every step along the way, from securing patents to creating business plans to launching start-up companies. Over the past two years, the support of the OC has increased commercialization outputs from WSU. In FY 2014, the OC received over 100 new technologies, filed over 100 patent applications in the U.S., executed 49 agreements generating over $980,000 in revenue, and established five start-up companies.
Attending industry events like LSINW and the CleanTech Showcase help the researchers find companies interested in licensing their technologies, research or industry partners who can help with development, investors, and more. Below you can learn about these researchers, and the technologies they brought to Seattle.
Sustaining health with treatments, medical devices, diagnostics
- Treating neurodegenerative diseases
WSU research led to the start-up company M3 Biotechnology, which has developed a drug with the potential to slow and even restore the function of brain cells damaged by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. M3 is awaiting approval to start human clinical trials.
- Catching early signs of dementia
Psychologist Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe is in the process of developing an app that would help clinical psychologists and general medical practitioners catch early signs of dementia in patients.
- Improving quality of life for Parkinson’s patients
Speech and hearing scientist Mark VanDam is developing a device that will help patients re-learn how to speak so they can be heard. Parkinson’s patients – there are at least 22,000 in Washington State – can experience a loss of speech volume, which VanDam says is more a behavioral than physiological symptom of the disease. Patients don’t realize they are not speaking loudly enough, which inhibits their ability to interact with others.
- Safer, longer-lasting bone implants
In an effort to improve implants used in the nearly one million hip and knee replacements that happen in the U.S. each year, material scientist Susmita Bose developed a bone-like material that could reduce risk of infection, shorten recovery times, and diminish the need for future procedures. The material also has potential to be used in drug delivery to treat conditions that deteriorate bone tissue, such as musculoskeletal disorders.
- Improving hearing, and preventing hearing loss
360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, a number neuroscientist Allison Coffin’s research aims to minimize. She is developing a device and methodology that could improve the assessment of drug candidates for preventing sensory cell death that results in hearing loss. Currently there are no approved preventive therapies, and this technology could help speed up the approval process. Dr. Coffin also presented potential drugs that could prevent hearing loss caused by antibiotic use.
- Regenerating muscle that breaks down due to disease, aging
Dan Rodgers’ cell biology research has led to a possible treatment for the breakdown and degeneration of muscle associated with cancer, AIDS, heart failure and the natural aging process.
- Targeting cancer cells
Current anticancer drugs destroy healthy cells along with the cancerous cells. Chemist Cliff Berkman is developing a novel drug delivery system that more accurately targets cancer cells.
- Identifying genes that could individualize cancer treatment
A screening method developed by Grant Trobridge identifies biomarkers and therapeutic targets to treat prostate cancer.
- Healthier, water-saving produce for a growing population
Phytelligence, a WSU start-up company launched by geneticist Amit Dhingra, produces a plant-based biotechnology, featuring ‘smart trees’ that grow three times faster while conserving water and reducing the need for pesticides.
Developing smart, adaptive technology systems to monitor and improve decision-making for health
- Helping seniors maintain independence longer, providing better care at nursing homes
Aaron Crandall and his WSU team are developing smart home technologies that allow seniors and those suffering from dementia to function independently and remain in their own home longer. This technology will also help nursing facilities and caretakers improve decision making in regards to the health of the patient, and reduce strain on the health care system. Crandall and his team are launching a company called Behaviometrics that uses artificial intelligence technologies to learn and assist with resident activities in a house (e.g., monitor activities, identify critical situations, and provide health monitoring).
- Giving your doctor a more accurate, comprehensive reading of vital signs
In the era of FitBits and personalized medicine, Dr. Subhanshu Gupta’s technology is paving the way to “smart clothes” that could monitor your vital signs. This system of flexible sensors could result in more accurate readings that can be sent to your doctor from your home. The sensors are expected to detect emergency situations like cardiac arrest sooner, and alert health care professionals.
Foundational and emergent materials that optimize resource management, are environmentally friendly, provide enhanced performance
- Recycling wind turbine blades and carbon composites
What to do with 178-foot, 22,000-pound wind turbine blades when they stop working? WSU researcher Karl Englund and Puget Sound company Global Fiberglass Solutions want to recycle them, and recently successfully manufactured a variety of composite products made from decommissioned wind blades. Englund’s work also involves recycling carbon fiber into composites that could be used by aerospace, energy and transportation industries. Part of this research also includes finding methods to create a viable commercial pathway for this recycling and manufacturing.
- Making plastics from renewable, bio-based products
Thomas Garrison from one of WSU’s newest research-industry centers shared the opportunity to partner on the development of bio-based products. The Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites is a National Science Foundation Industry and University Cooperative Research Center that focuses on developing high-value bio-based products from agricultural and forestry feedstocks. The center is a collaborative effort by WSU’s Composite Materials Engineering Center, the Biopolymers and Biocomposites Research Team at Iowa State University, and industry members who conduct commercially relevant research.
Interested in becoming a member? Learn more here.
- Increasing battery safety
Bio-based electrolytes developed by material scientist Katie Zhong could replace the liquid, polluting electrolytes currently used in batteries that end up in our landfills.
- A battery that could reduce energy use
Flexible lithium-ion batteries developed by Rahul Panat are good options for high-density energy storage electronics as well as ultra-high speed chip-to-chip communication, developments that could reduce massive amounts of energy used by data centers throughout the U.S. Panat also presented recent research on additive manufacturing of microelectronics and 3-D antennas, which advance cleantech by providing alternatives that will last longer and be more effective than current technology.
Meeting energy needs while protecting the environment
- Hydrogen fuel
As more renewables are added to the grid, new inexpensive, scalable energy storage is required. Simultaneously, fuel cell electric vehicles are coming into market with limited fueling options. Protium Innovations, a WSU start-up company (started by Jake Leachman who spoke at a Technology Alliance breakfast), is developing technology that provides small-scale liquefaction to establish distributed liquid hydrogen production that costs less than current liquefaction methods. The technology can also provide grid-level renewable power storage for utilities. They have already worked with local company Insitu on a liquid hydrogen-fueled drone.
- Biomass fuel
Biological systems engineer Hanwu Lei is developing high-energy, dense bio-fuels from a versatile conversion system: feedstocks and processes for securing bio-aromatic hydrocarbons. Direct catalysis processes coupled with microwave pyrolysis converts biomass to aromatic hydrocarbon fuels and other value-added products. The aromatics can be used as major components for gasoline, marine bunker fuels, and jet fuels. The electricity used for pyrolysis can be fully recovered by producing biochar, making this 100% self-sustainable process.
Transforming the U.S. power grid
- Energy Systems Innovation Center
Power grid expert Chen-Ching Liu gave a presentation about another university-industry center at WSU that is developing technology innovations for the smart grid and other critical areas of energy systems. The Energy Systems Innovation Center brings together research faculty, business leaders, and governmental organizations to conduct research and test new technologies that will impact economic development in Washington State and beyond, securing WSU’s position as an international leader in smart energy systems.
Interested in partnering? Learn more here.