UNMC research team discovers novel pharmaceutic action for HIV/AIDS

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Could allow patients to take multiple medications just once a month

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has used a process they call LASER ART (long-acting slow effective release antiretroviral therapy) to discover an unexpected pathway to open cell storage areas for antiviral drugs. The discovery could revolutionize current treatments for HIV/AIDS by extending the actions of disease-combating medicines.

The LASER ART research breakthrough is significant, as the invention could be broadly applied. The discovery allows conventional drugs, taken once or twice/day, to be transformed into once a month dosing.

Such changes would ease the burden on patients and their caregivers.  The injectable drug bypasses oral absorption and brings the drug to body sites where the virus continues to hide in tissue sanctuaries.

The work is detailed in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, one of the world’s leading scientific journals reporting novel, high-impact translational research.

The 14-member research team was spearheaded by three members of the UNMC Department of Pharmacology/Experimental Neuroscience in the College of Medicine – Divya Prakash Gnanadhas, Ph.D., post-doctoral research associate, Santhi Gorantla, Ph.D., associate professor, and Howard Gendelman, M.D., professor and chair.  The team also included researchers from the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

Harris Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, discovered the pharmaceutical agent called URMC-099.

“This will likely have a strong global impact on HIV/AIDS health care,” said Dr. Gendelman, whose laboratory has pursued research for more than a decade on LASER ART. “Getting people to take medication every day is difficult. To be able to take medication once a month or even longer will make it much easier for patients to be compliant while at the same time help bring the drug to tissues of the body that are not easily reached by conventional medicines.”

The LASER ART developed by the UNMC scientists is a formulation of injectable drugs, he said. The long-lasting medication was developed by making pharmacological changes in the chemical structure of the drug, while at the same time protecting its abilities to contain infection.

The new drug formulation is not an anti-HIV medicine, Dr. Gorantla said, but rather one that opens storage areas inside cells where drugs can be maintained for a long period of time. This extends the intervals for dosing and allows physicians to administer the drug over an extended period of time.

Prior to this discovery, Dr. Gorantla said only two drugs had been modified in this fashion. Their use was limited, she said, because each injection would require several ounces of drug with larger volumes in each succeeding injection. This amount of drug given can potentially be cut in half with this new medication.

Dr. Gendelman said LASER ART enables drug crystals to reach destinations in tissues and blood and stay there. These drug crystals are protected against destruction (metabolism) in the liver and excretion in the kidney and urine.

To accomplish this, the scientists merged LASER ART with URMC-099, which alone has no antiviral effect. Co-administration with antiretroviral medicines provides enhanced viral suppression, Dr. Gorantla said.

The scientists discovered that several innovative strategies – slow drug dissolution, poor water-solubility and improved bioavailability – could bring the medication to the sites of active viral growth and accelerate clearance of the virus.

“We showed that one drug can deliver the other drug to sites inside the cells where the virus grows and at the same time sequester the drug crystals at sites protecting it from degradation,” she said. “The drug inside the cell slowly dissolves from the crystal and is released into the blood.

“This is a new way to extend the actions of drugs,” Dr. Gnanadhas said. “It is a means to improve drug effectiveness and to allow patients to take drugs without interruption.”

The drugs were formulated through UNMC’s good laboratory practice (GLP) manufacturing facility. Financial support for the project was provided by Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Deb Thomas.

Dr. Gendelman said the next step is to formulate URMC-099 with drug cocktails and investigate whether such a chemical marriage can extend the half lives of many other antiretroviral and a spectrum of other drugs. Ultimately, they hope to combine URMC-099 with drugs that have been limited for human use due to the frequency and bioavailability of their required dosing to be effective.

The research was supported in part by four institutes of the National Institutes of Health – the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Aging.

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The year in review: Highlights from 2016

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by Charles Litton, UNeMed | Jan. 25, 2017

As we close the books on another year of tech transfer—our 25th, to be precise—we wanted to take a moment to look back on the year that was. Here’s a review of some of the most important stories, developments, most popular posts and other highlights from UNeMed in 2016:

UNeMed hosted the Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. The awards recognize all UNMC faculty, students and staff who disclosed a new invention, secured a U.S. patent or licensed a technology during the previous fiscal year.

1. Innovation Week
Innovation Week has always been a consistent driver of traffic to the website. But each year seems to be bigger than the last, and 2016 was no exception. Our annual celebration of UNMC’s innovative research is anchored by the Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception, which highlighted the impressive work coming from Irving Zucker’s labs (see below). But the 2016 festivities were special in another way: The series of events also highlighted the year as UNeMed’s 25th anniversary.

2. Industry Partnering Day
For something we downplayed as a low-key event, it sure hit a nerve. Our first Industry Partnering Day was a small, but focused group of researchers, investors and industry executives. The obvious goal was building stronger relationships between those groups, but we also hoped the event might help lift a few UNMC innovations to further development. The invitation-only event was a clear success, and that’s why we plan to do it again this year. This time around, however, we will focus on medical devices. If you think you should be invited, drop us a line.

3. Vein and arteries are more than mere pipes
There’s a lot more to veins and arteries than you might think. This popular blog post took a closer look at just how complex they are, and debunked the idea that they resemble the plumbing in your house. The post helped explain why things like atherosclerosis and kidney dialysis have an added layer of complexity due to the dynamic nature of veins and arteries.

4. 2016 Demo Day
UNeMed’s Technology Demonstration Day entered its fourth year in October 2016, highlighting a handful of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s top innovations. The event also featured two Nebraska biotech startups that were selected from a field of more than 200 applicants for a national demo day in Washington D.C.: Calidum and Orion BioScience.

Iriving Zucker, Ph.D., accepts the 2016 Innovator of the Year Award.

5. Zucker is Innovator of the Year
Irving Zucker, Ph.D., took home UNeMed’s top prize from the annual Innovation Awards Ceremony. His work with treating chronic heart failure and high blood pressure—via reducing excessive sympathetic nerve activity—landed the Innovator of the Year Award. The work also secured the interest of an industrial partner who is collaborating with Zucker’s lab to push the innovation toward FDA-approved treatments.

6. Anyone can be an inventor
That only scientists in lab coats can be an inventor is a common misconception. That perception, however does not match reality, and we sought to dispel that myth with this popular blog post back in May. The truth is, anyone can be an inventor. All you need is an idea, and some way to convey it.

7. If you want to be an entrepreneur…get a job!
A portion of our efforts are dedicated to helping build startups, and working with biotech entrepreneurs. Over the years, 55 startup companies have emerged from UNMC innovations, and we’ve learned a thing or two from all those successes (and failures too). Our Business Development Manager, Joe Runge, explores the value of “on-the-job learning” for budding entrepreneurs.

8. Motometrix (Avert) joins StraightShot
Motometrix, since re-branded as Avert, landed a coveted spot in Omaha’s technology accelerator program, StraightShot. Avert’s novel concussion detection platform is based on technology developed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s world-class Biomechanics Research Building. The device resembles a bathroom scale turbo-charged with powerful software and highly sensitive pressure sensors that can determine when a person has suffered a concussion during sporting events. Avert is currently working on refining its prototype in preparation for a wider product roll-out.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses an audience during UNeMed's Demo Day event in October 2016.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses an audience during UNeMed’s Demo Day event in October 2016.

9. Calidum will treat, diagnose cancers
In April, UNeMed announced a licensing deal that helped create a new startup based on a UNMC technology that could be used to both diagnose and treat various cancers. Calidum’s “theranostic” compound is tagged with a harmless, radioactive isotope, and has a remarkable ability to target some treatment-resistant cancers, including prostate, ovarian and triple-negative breast cancer. The FDA has approved a clinical trial for prostate cancer.

10. New approach needed for Alzheimer’s
Despite its late arrival—and competition with the holiday season and a rather disruptive hack that laid the website low for several weeks—our most recent blog still managed to capture a lot of attention. Written by our newest addition to the staff, licensing intern Tyler Scherr, Ph.D., the blog examines current and future treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease. The overall outlook is grim for the present, but new approaches in the future could change that.

Honorable Mention:
The annual website review often rates a fair amount of traffic, including last year’s look at 2015, which revisited important stories about developing UNMC innovations. Among the top stories was a note about Virtual Incision, a Nebraska startup creating novel surgical robots. While much of the news in 2015 focused on Virtual Incision’s fund-raising success, the news in 2016 shifted to the company’s first-in-human tests and its addition to the University of Nebraska’s Innovation Campus.

Classics
Several posts from previous years remain popular and relevant, particularly those that focus on day-to-day operations and legal issues associated with intellectual property.
1. The importance of technology transfer
2. How to determine who is an inventor on a patent: Unraveling inventorship vs. authorship
3. What you need to know about royalty distribution
4. Technology transfer 101: Defining research commercialization

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UNMC, UNO form new institute to help start-ups succeed

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UNeTech facility at 3929 Harney St. will provide affordable space in 3-level, 5,000-sq.-ft. building

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC

The University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha are partnering on a new institute designed to identify promising start-up companies and help them become successful.

The institute – called UNeTech – will be located at 3929 Harney St. in a building formerly occupied by the American Red Cross.

Rodney Markin - Pathology

Dr. Markin

A longtime top administrator at UNMC, Rod Markin, M.D., Ph.D., will serve as executive director of UNeTech. Dr. Markin has been on the faculty for 30 years, serving most recently as chief technology officer and associate vice chancellor for business development.

In 2010-11, Dr. Markin served as interim dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. Prior to this, he was named the David T. Purtilo Distinguished Professor of Pathology in 2005 and senior associate dean for clinical affairs in the College of Medicine in 1997. He also served as president of UNMC Physicians, the physician practice group for UNMC, from 1997 to 2010.

Dr. Markin, who holds 35 patents, is one of the most prolific inventors at UNMC. In 2009, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from UNeMed Corporation, UNMC’s technology transfer company, for his innovative work in transforming the clinical laboratory through technology.

Joe Runge will serve as associate director of UNeTech. Runge has been with UNeMed for the past 11 years, serving as business development manager and senior licensing specialist. UNeMed has been in operation for 25 years.

Scott Snyder, Ph.D., chief research officer, will serve as the lead administrator for UNO. He will be assisted by Nick Stergiou, Ph.D., Distinguished Community Research Chair in Biomechanics and director of UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building.

In addition to his role as chief research officer, Dr. Snyder is president of the Nebraska Applied Research Institute (NARI) on the UNO campus. Dr. Stergiou also oversees the National Center for Research in Human Movement Variability housed in the UNO Biomechanics Research Building.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for UNO to partner with UNMC, as we bring meaningful technologies from the research lab into the lives and care of people,” Dr. Snyder said.

“Biomechanics is committed to work with UNeTech in translating our innovations into effective start-up companies,” Dr. Stergiou added.

Ultimately, UNeTech will report to the UNMC chancellor, Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., and the UNO chancellor, John Christensen, Ph.D. An Oversight Committee made up of three leading business people who are all graduates of the UNMC College of Medicine– James Linder, M.D., F. Joseph Daugherty, M.D., and Tyler Martin, M.D. – will serve in an advisory capacity.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech’s mission will be to bridge the gap after UNeMed identifies promising technology and intellectual property and provide the support to allow these fledgling companies to become successful.

“It’s called the ‘Valley of Death,’” Dr. Markin said. “It’s the most difficult hurdle for new businesses to clear – 50 percent of start-up companies fail in the first three years.”

UNeTech hopes to make it easier for start-up companies to succeed by providing affordable space in its three-level, 5,000-sq.-ft. building. The top two levels will provide conventional office space, while the unfinished basement will serve as a laboratory/workshop area.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech hopes to have three start-up companies in the building by next month. These companies will share space on the first level of the building. Over time, he said the building could accommodate as many as 10-12 start-up companies.

UNeTech was approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents in 2015, and the Nebraska Legislature will allocate $1 million each year to cover UNeTech’s operating expenses.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech’s goals over the next five years include:

  • Evaluating at least 25 UNeMed-derived and 25 university-related technology opportunities;
  • Transitioning 10 of these opportunities into pass/fail status as start-up companies;
  • Incubating 20 early-stage technology/start-up opportunities;
  • Launching five start-up businesses capable of obtaining early-stage funding; and
  • Creating at least 50 new jobs.

To accomplish these goals, Dr. Markin said UNeTech will seek to raise between $7 million to $10 million in funding from individuals and outside agencies to invest in the potential technology and start-up companies.

“This will allow us to create a revolving fund with enough capital to maintain a strong growth environment into perpetuity,” he said.

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Website experiencing problems

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UPDATE (Jan. 18, 2017)—This afternoon UNeMed, with considerable help from Omaha startup Flywheel, completed most major repairs to the unemed.com website. Some small issues still remain unresolved, but should be cleared up before the end of the week. However, the website has been restored to full-functionality.

The website is now fortified with more robust oversight and protective systems, which should help prevent such disruptions of service in the future. We apologize for the duration and scope of the trouble, and thank you for your patience as we continue to fix the minor issues that remain.

***

OMAHA, Neb. (Dec. 22, 2016)—As many of you may have already discovered, our website is suffering from several glitches, which may have been caused by a recent hacking attempt.

We are working hard to resolve the many issues, but we may not have everything sorted out for several more days. If there is anything in particular you need or want, but can no longer access on the website, please give us a call at 402-559-2468 or email us at unemed@unmc.edu. We’ll do whatever we can to help.

We regret and apologize for any inconvenience the disruption in service may have caused.

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Kielian is UNMC’s 11th Scientist Laureate

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UNMC Professor of Pathology Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., (left)—seen here with doctoral student Megan Bosch—was named UNeMed's 2015 Innovator of the Year for her work against Juvenile Batten Disease and biofilm infections.

UNMC Professor of Pathology Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., (left)—seen here with doctoral student Megan Bosch—was UNeMed’s 2015 Innovator of the Year for her work against Juvenile Batten Disease and biofilm infections.

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Pathology and Microbiology, has been named the 11th UNMC Scientist Laureate.

The award is the highest honor UNMC bestows to researchers.

Dr. Kielian will be honored along with 21 other researchers who were named UNMC Distinguished Scientist, New Investigator and Research Leadership award winners for 2016. A campus ceremony will be held Jan. 17 in the Durham Research Center Auditorium to recognize the award recipients.

“Tammy Kielian is a ‘spark,’” said Vice Chancellor for Research Jennifer Larsen, M.D. “She is passionate about research and collaborates with many around multiple research interests, including developing new technologies.”

A native of Stanton, Neb., Dr. Kielian earned her bachelor’s degree in 1991 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, her master’s degree in 1994 from Kansas State University, and her doctorate in 1998 from the University of Kansas Medical Center. She did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth Medical School.

After completing her fellowship, she served as research assistant professor at Dartmouth before moving to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 2001 as assistant professor. She was elevated to associate professor in 2006.

In 2008, she joined the UNMC Department of Pathology and Microbiology. She was named professor in 2010, and in 2014, she received a prestigious named professorship – the Choudari Kommineni, D.V.M., Ph.D., Professorship of Pathology.

“Tammy is an exceptional individual because of her unique skills in multiple areas including immunology, infectious diseases neurology and genetic disorders,” said Steven Hinrichs, M.D., professor and chair of pathology and microbiology. “She is able to take essential elements from each subdiscipline and apply them to both basic science and clinical therapies.”

“As this year’s UNMC Scientist Laureate, Dr. Kielian joins an impressive list of internationally recognized UNMC faculty who are major contributors to their fields of research,” said Brad Britigan, M.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. “Dr. Kielian’s novel approaches to understanding the pathogenesis of staphylococcal infections of prosthetic devices provides hope for addressing an all too common infection that has a major impact on lives throughout the world.

“Dr. Kielian’s ability to simultaneously develop a highly productive and visionary research program to explain and develop a potential therapy for the rare hereditary disease, juvenile Batten disease, that impacted a member of her immediate family, is a testament to her creativity and commitment as an investigator. She is very deserving of this recognition by the UNMC research community.”

Other award winners include:

Research Leadership Award

The Research Leadership Award is intended to honor scientists previously recognized as Distinguished Scientists who have a longstanding research funding history and also serve as research leaders and mentors on campus.

  • B. Timothy Baxter, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Robert Lewis, Ph.D., Eppley Institute

Distinguished Scientist Award

The Distinguished Scientist Award – which is sponsored by the UNMC chancellor – recognizes researchers who have been among the most productive scientists in the country during the past five years.

  • Maneesh Jain, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Shelby Kutty, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Rongshi Li, Ph.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Mark Mailliard, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Kaleb Michaud, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Joseph Norman, Ph.D., College of Allied Health Professions
  • Larisa Poluektova, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Matthew Rizzo, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Melissa Tibbits, Ph.D., College of Public Health

New Investigator Awards

New Investigator Awards go to outstanding UNMC scientists who in the past two years have secured their first funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense or other national sources. New Investigators also had to demonstrate scholarly activity such as publishing their research and/or presenting their findings at national conventions.

  • Laura Bilek, Ph.D., College of Allied Health Professions
  • Martin Conda Sheridan, Ph.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Sung-Ho Huh, Ph.D., Munroe-Meyer Institute
  • R. Katherine Hyde, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Mariano Sanchez-Lockhart, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Kimberly Scarsi, Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Jessica Nichols Snowden, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Hanjun Wang, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Wanfen Xiong, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine

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Prototype ‘printed’ for eye surgery

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by Vicky Cerino, UNMC

Eye surgeon, Donny Suh, M.D., changes the lives of patients with his hands and with the tools he uses.

As an inventor, Dr. Suh has discovered how useful 3D printing is for improving medical instruments used in surgery to repair Strabismus, a condition in which the eyes cross from misaligned eye muscles.

He has been working with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s 3D printing club, UNMC Makers, with the support of the McGoogan Library of Medicine.

Donny Suh, M.D.

Dr. Suh

“I’m very excited about this project and to be working with UNMC graduate students and staff. They are as enthusiastic and energetic as I am,” said Dr. Suh, associate professor in the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the Truhlsen Eye Institute and chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Dr. Suh said one of the traditional tools he uses to repair eye muscles in hundreds of children each year, called a needle driver, cannot easily maneuver into tight spaces for the surgery.

“The new tool will allow surgeons to work in a very small space with a limited view around the eye without compromising the safety to perform eye muscle surgery with a great precision.”

To see if such a tool would effectively function, he and his team used 3D technology to develop a prototype to be tried in a laboratory setting.

With the help of Tyler Scherr, Ph.D. and graduate student, Tim Bielecki, Dr. Suh printed a prototype. A manufacturer is in the process of making a titanium prototype of the tool.

When the prototype is completed, Dr. Suh will test the tool in the laboratory.

“He will be able to get a feel for the tool to see if it will be workable in a clinical setting,” Bielecki said. “Dr. Suh opened the door to collaboration. He knew we had the technology to develop a prototype that could save time and money.”

“I feel privileged to be a part of a collaborative effort with Dr. Suh’s team to improve a surgical tool,” said Dr. Scherr. “Dr. Suh came to us originally to use 3D printing to speed up the process. He’s really creative. In the past, it could take almost two years for the design process with a manufacturer.”

Dr. Suh and his team plan to present his project at an international conference of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Hawaii.

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Alzheimer’s Outlook: Current meds only mask symptoms, new approach needed

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by Tyler Scherr, UNeMed | Dec. 14, 2016

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t flashy; it isn’t in the news like the latest scary flu strain or antibiotic resistant superbug. As the leading cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease affects your brain, but it isn’t the brain tumor that springs up more-or-less overnight, throwing your entire life into disarray.

It’s a slow build-up of toxic proteins, causing your brain cells to wither and die, one-by-one, over the course of several decades. Your favorite memories disappear like apps and photos from a damaged smart phone.

Think about this: An estimated 700,000 Americans with Alzheimer’s disease died in 2016. Most of them, tragically, passed away without even the small comfort of happy memories.

Like you, I hope to live a long and happy life, and remember it when the end comes. I recently set out to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, check the pulse of current clinical trials, and hopefully catch a glimpse of what the future holds.

From HealthNewsReview.org:

From HealthNewsReview.org: “Alzheimer’s drug discovery has sadly experienced an almost universal failure rate of preclinical and Phase I, II, and III testing and nothing seems to get through the pipeline as this recent infographic from Nature Reviews Drug Discovery suggests. (The funnels illustrate the average number of compounds needed at each stage of drug development in order to get one drug approved.)”

Here’s the bad news: We currently have no drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease progression.

The best we can do is partially mask the symptoms.

According to Daniel Murman, M.D., Director of UNMC’s Memory Disorders and Behavioral Neurology Program, there are currently two classes of FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer’s, and both are neurotransmitter-based therapies. They essentially work by supporting proper brain cell function.

“The other medications that are used would be medications for psychiatric symptoms, which are common,” he said.

Honestly, the current “best treatment” for Alzheimer’s is to avoid getting it in the first place. Alzheimer’s disease progression is “similar to cardiovascular disease, in that atherosclerotic plaque build-up happens years before you have a heart attack,” said Dr. Murman.

Also, many of those things that lead to heart disease can also lead to Alzheimer’s, including midlife hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Following your doctor’s advice to avoid cardiovascular disease could also help protect you against Alzheimer’s.

While Dr. Murman cautioned that there is still no conclusive evidence linking healthy lifestyle choices with decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, he listed aerobic activity, a heart-healthy diet, keeping socially connected, and avoiding repeated head trauma as good lifestyle choices that may help avoid age-associated Alzheimer’s disease.

Crucially, however, unlike heart disease, we still have no way to fix Alzheimer’s disease.

The last FDA approved treatment for Alzheimer’s disease was in 2004, but it only helps manage the dementia, Dr. Murman said.

Despite monumental efforts on the part of pharmaceutical companies, clinicians, and clinical trial participants, an effective treatment continues to elude scientists. For example, in November 2016 global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company abandoned yet another drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, Solanezumab, which had previously failed to treat patients with more severe Alzheimer’s disease in a 2012 trial.

These trials now join the growing list of disappointments.

Over the past 12 years, at least six drugs have failed in the final stage of their clinical trial. What did these trials have in common? They were mostly antibody-based treatments that targeted a toxic protein called amyloid-beta.

However, with each failed trial it’s becoming increasingly evident that new therapeutic approaches must be considered.

Daniel Murman, M.D.In response to this latest round of disappointing news, Dr. Murman said that “by the time patients develop clinical symptoms of AD, there is significant neuronal loss and the initiation of multiple neurodegenerative processes has already occurred.”

He added: “AD clinical trials are increasingly focusing on subjects who are clinically normal, but show biomarker signs of very early AD changes in the brain (preclinical AD). There remains hope that intervening at this very early stage of AD will be more successful.”

Early results from one of these trials, involving another amyloid-beta targeting drug produced by Merck, should be available as early as June 2017. In the meantime, the research community will likely pivot to new forms of potential treatment.

“There is still an urgent need for a variety of approaches to prevent or slow the progression and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, ALS and Huntington’s disease,” Dr. Murman said.

Scientists remain undaunted in the face of previous failures, with several university and industry research teams still working toward an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

For example, one intriguing option is not a change in what to target, but when. According to Dr. Murman, there is evidence showing that actually removing the bad protein may not be the answer. Rather, preventing its build-up in the first place may prove more successful. Companies like Merck and Eli Lilly have drugs in various stages of development targeting enzymes that could prevent the production of amyloid-beta plaques to begin with. While some of these drugs have entered stage 3 clinical trials, it will still be another 3-5 years before we know if they were effective.

While it may still be years before these and other promising novel treatments even begin clinical trials, Dr. Murman remains optimistic in his hope for disease-modifying treatments targeting beta-amyloids.

“I think there’s going to be, hopefully, a lot coming out in the next couple of years about these therapies,” he said.

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Two Nebraska biomed startups pitch at national demo day

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 20, 2016)—Two Nebraska biomedical startup companies were among the “Best University Startups of 2016,” a national demo day event that featured 35 nationally selected companies to present their technologies and meet with congressional leaders.

“There were more than 200 companies nationwide who applied for this opportunity,” UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., said. “Getting two Nebraska startup companies into the room demonstrates the University’s commitment to growing the state’s biomedical economy.”

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses a standing room only crowd during the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer's national demo day in Washington D.C. on Sept. 20, 2016. Calidum is developing a radiopharmaceutical invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Centert that could dramatically change how some cancers are diagnosed, monitored and treated.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses a standing room only crowd during the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer’s Best University Startups of 2016, a national demo day in Washington D.C. on Sept. 20, 2016. Calidum is developing a radiopharmaceutical invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that could dramatically change how some cancers are diagnosed, monitored and treated.

In all, the selected companies represented 17 states and the District of Columbia at the national demo day. Pennsylvania had the most with five startups presenting. California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio all had three apiece. Nebraska was joined by D.C. and Minnesota as the only other areas with multiple entries at two apiece. The remaining states, with one presentation each, were Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

The Nebraska startup companies—Calidum Inc. and Orion BioScience—met with elected officials after addressing a standing-room crowd of venture capitalists, angel investors and industrial representatives on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Calidum is based on a technology invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The technology specifically targets certain types of cancer for more effective treatments and diagnoses. Calidum’s president, Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., delivered the presentation.

Orion is based on a technology invented at the University of Kansas, but relocated its headquarters to Omaha for Nebraska’s startup-friendly climate. Moving to Omaha also brings Orion closer to its clinical partner, UNMC. Orion is built around a platform technology that looks to restore immune tolerance as a way to cure autoimmune diseases.

BRad Ashord meets Sam Al-Murrani and Michael Dixon.

Sen. Brad Ashford (left) shares a joke as he meets with Calidum’s Sam Al-Murrani while UNeMed’s Michael Dixon looks on.

“The best part is the presentations did exactly what we hoped they would do,” Dr. Dixon said. “Both companies made significant connections to major biomedical and venture capital organizations. Building relationships like that can be tremendously difficult, but it’s a huge part of successfully commercializing a university technology.”

Dr. Dixon joined Dr. Al-Murrani and Orion CSO Joshua Sestak, Ph.D., in meetings with members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation: Rep. Brad Ashford, Sen. Deb Fischer and an aide from Sen. Ben Sasse’s office.

The meetings with elected officials covered several key areas, but focused mainly on the unique challenges facing biomedical startups and university technology transfer offices like UNeMed.

Biomedical startups often run into funding shortfalls after the initial federal grant programs, which typically financed initial discoveries. But it is usually industrial financing that supports the hefty price tag of product development.

Joshua Sestak, Deb Fischer, Sam Al-Murrani and Michael Dixon.

Pictured from left are Orion BioScience CSO Joshua Sestak, Ph.D., Sen. Deb Fischer, Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., and UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon.

Between those two resources, however, biomedical innovations often languish in a so-called “valley of death.” That valley represents a wide gap where a technology is too far along for further federal funding, yet paradoxically too far away to encourage support from industrial or investment groups.

The National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer hosted and sponsored the national demo day. According to its website, another national demo day is planned for April 18-20, 2017. The application deadline for the “Best University Startups of 2017” is Dec. 15, 2016.

 

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$20 million research grant is largest ever for UNMC

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Will focus on clinical/translational research, developing early career researchers into independent scientists

Some of the steering committee members of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network

Some of the steering committee members of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network include: (left-right) Ted Mikuls, M.D., Ann Fruhling, Ph.D., Ashok Mudgapalli, Ph.D., Fang Yu, Ph.D., Jim McClay, M.D., Matt Rizzo, M.D., Mary Cramer, Ph.D., Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Ph.D., Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., and Karla Klaus. NOTE: Dr. Fruhling is from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. All others in the photo are from UNMC. Those UNMC steering committee members missing from the photo are: Paul Estabrooks, Ph.D., Lani (Chi Chi) Zimmerman, Ph.D., Jane Meza, Ph.D., and Babu Guda, Ph.D.

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 25, 2016)—A team of University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers headed by Matthew Rizzo, M.D., professor and chair of the department of neurological sciences, has landed the largest grant ever for UNMC – a five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health totaling nearly $20 million.

Funding is provided through the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program and the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Studies. It will focus on developing early career researchers into independent scientists and increasing the infrastructure and other resources needed to support clinical/translational research (CTR) around the region.

The grant will create the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network, a collaboration involving nine institutions in four states – Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas.

In addition to UNMC, the Nebraska institutions include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Boys Town National Research Hospital. Other participants include the University of South Dakota, University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, and the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“This is a huge accomplishment for our institution,” said Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. “It’s never easy to compete for a research grant of this magnitude. It represents years of hard work by lots of dedicated individuals. We couldn’t be more proud. This is truly a great day for UNMC and for our research partners.”

“We’ve been building clinical/translational research resources steadily for almost a decade to prepare us to compete for this or other large clinical/translational grant awards,” said Jennifer Larsen, M.D., vice chancellor for research. “Receiving this award shows we ‘have arrived,’ and the award itself will further expand the resources available for our faculty to continue to successfully compete on a national level.”

The grant will be particularly focused on expanding knowledge about approaches needed to address diseases of aging and brain health, Dr. Rizzo said.

“The states involved in our grant are rural states, so we will put extra emphasis on projects that will benefit people in rural areas or the medically underserved,” he said. “There is a strong aspect of community engagement. There are many good ideas that need to be studied. We can’t wait to get going and recruit our first class of scholars and launch our first pilot projects.”

A community engagement core group has been formed, Dr. Rizzo said. It is an interprofessional group that includes investigators from the colleges of medicine, nursing and public health at UNMC as well as researchers from the other participating institutions and the communities they serve.

“The goal of this grant is to help early career scientists to become independent and launch their own research programs,” Dr. Rizzo said. “We want to fill in the health gaps in the Great Plains area. We have unique needs. We have areas with relatively few people in big spaces, as well as medically underserved populations in urban areas.”

“This is all about improving the body of knowledge,” said Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of UNMC research and development and a professor of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience. “We do research that helps people. What that research will be is determined by the talented scientists at our participating institutions.”

UNMC’s largest previous grant – also from the NIH IDeA program – was a $17.2 million grant awarded in 2009 to James Turpen, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. The grant was renewed in 2015 for $16.2 million.

Institutional Development Award (IDeA)

The Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research.

The program fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions located in states in which the aggregate success rate for applications to NIH has historically been low.

The CTR program allows IDeA states to develop infrastructure and capacity to conduct clinical and translational research on diseases that are prevalent in their population. It is designed to focus on meeting the needs of unique populations such as rural and medically underserved communities.

The IDeA-CTR program increases the competitiveness of investigators by supporting faculty development and research infrastructure. It further provides for mentoring and career development activities in clinical and translational research.

Leadership team — Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network

University of Nebraska Medical Center

  • Matthew Rizzo, M.D., (principal investigator) professor and chair, neurological sciences, College of Medicine
  • Paul Estabrooks, Ph.D., professor and chair, health professions, societal and behavioral health, College of Public Health
  • Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., professor, pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, senior associate dean for research, College of Medicine
  • Mary Cramer, Ph.D., professor, College of Nursing
  • Ted Mikuls, M.D., professor, internal medicine – rheumatology, College of Medicine
  • Lani (Chi Chi) Zimmerman, Ph.D., professor, College of Nursing
  • Fang Yu, Ph.D., associate professor, biostatistics, College of Public Health
  • Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair, epidemiology, College of Public Health
  • Jane Meza, Ph.D., professor, biostatistics, senior associate dean, College of Public Health
  • Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., professor, environmental, agricultural and occupational health, College of Public Health
  • Dave Palm, Ph.D., associate professor, health services, research and administration, College of Public Health
  • Jim McClay, M.D., associate professor, emergency medicine, College of Medicine
  • Babu Guda, Ph.D., professor, genetics, cell biology & anatomy, director, Bioinformatics & System Biological Core Facility, College of Medicine
  • Ashok Mudgapalli, Ph.D., assistant professor, genetics, cell biology & anatomy, College of Medicine
  • Denise Britigan, Ph.D., assistant professor, health professions, societal and behavioral health, College of Public Health
  • Karla Klaus, program administrator, vice chancellor for research

University of Nebraska at Omaha

  •  Jeffrey French, Ph.D., professor, psychology and biology, and director of the neuroscience program
  • Ann Fruhling, Ph.D., professor of the College of Information Science and Technology and the founding director of the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics

University of Nebraska at Kearney

  •  Kimberly Carlson, Ph.D., professor, biology

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Melanie Simpson, Ph.D., professor, biochemistry

Boys Town National Research Hospital

  • Walt Jesteadt, Ph.D., director of research and director Psychoacoustics Laboratory
  • Ryan McCreery, Ph.D., director, Center for Audiology, and director, Audibility, Perception and Cognition Lab

University of South Dakota

  • Robin Miskimins, Ph.D., associate dean, basic biomedical sciences, Sanford School of Medicine,

University of North Dakota

  • Jonathan Geiger, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics

North Dakota State University

  • Mark McCourt, Ph.D., professor, psychology, and director of Center for Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience

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Demo Day videos are now available

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demodayposter16fin

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 24, 2016)—UNeMed released today four video excerpts from its UNMC Technology Demonstration Day held earlier this month.

A part of its annual Innovation Week festivities, UNeMed’s Demo Day featured six early-stage technologies invented or under development at UNMC and UNO.

Included in the published videos are presentations about 3D-printed prosthetics, a synthetic peptide that boosts the immune system, a “disruptive” hemodialysis catheter, and a platform technology that could make renal denervation a more practical treatment for high blood pressure. Two additional presentations were delivered during the event, Avert’s concussion detection platform and Orion BioScience’s curative approach to autoimmune disorders. But those two presentations cannot be made public at this time.

demoday16_cyborgbeast1_5x7Jorge Zuniga, Ph.D., was among the speakers for the Cyborg Beast, a startup company he co-founded to help bring affordable prosthetics hands to children everywhere. Dr. Zuniga and his team at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s state-of-the-art biomechanics department are also developing elbow and shoulder prosthetics, and are now beginning work on similar devices for the leg.

Prommune CEO Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., presented an immune stimulating peptide invented by UNMC’s Sam Sanderson, Ph.D. The peptide, EP67, has shown to be incredible flexible in stimulating the natural immune response and as an adjuvant or additive that boosts the power of known vaccines.

Hemodialysis catheter

Hemodialysis catheter

Chrysalis Medical CEO Ron Allen, Ph.D., presented a new hemodialysis catheter that is expected to hit the market within the next few months. Developed by Nebraska Medicine surgeon and UNMC associate professor Marius Florescu, M.D., the innovative catheter includes a small balloon that can be used to break up the natural accumulation of fibrous tissue that builds up over time. The new catheter eliminates the need for additional surgical procedures—and the associated risks—to replace a blocked catheter, which is the current standard of care.

Peter Pellegrino, Ph.D., rounds out the list of presentations with his talk about improving renal denervation. A recent clinical trial for a surgical procedure to treat high blood pressure gained notoriety when it failed to meet expectations. The treatment involves destroying misfiring nerves around the kidneys, but with no good way to measure the success of the procedure in real-time, it ultimately failed. Dr. Pellegrino, working with Irving Zucker,Ph.D., and his team, explains how UNMC developed a solution that can make the procedure more successful.

Demo Day was held Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, at the Michael F. Sorrell Center at UNMC. All available videos from the most recent event, can be viewed below. Videos from previous Demo Day events can be found on the UNeMed YouTube channel.

 

 

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Free luncheon will explore drug development, translational research

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rosenLINCOLN, Neb. (Oct. 21, 2016)—A Stanford University professor with more than 30 patents will headline a luncheon and keynote here that will explore drug development in academia.

Maria Mochly-Rosen, Ph.D., is the George D. Smith Professor for Translational Medicine at Stanford’s School of Medicine. The title of Dr. Mochly-Rosen’s planned presentation is: “P110: A Means to Slow Down or Prevent the Progression of Neurodegenerative Diseases; or How to SPARK Translational Research in Academia.”

The event will be held at the Wick Alumni Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s city campus, on Nov. 1, at 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all, but registration is required.

Dr. Mochly-Rosen is a professor in the Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, where she focuses on peptide inhibitors of protein-protein interactions to modulate key protein kinases and to regulate mitochondrial function. Her lab also develops small molecules to correct common mutations that affect about 500 million people.

unl2016researchfairShe is also the founding director of SPARK, Stanford’s program for promoting translational research in academia. In the last nine years, SPARK has helped more than 100 inventors move their biopharmaceutical and diagnostic innovations closer to the clinic.

Dr. Mochly-Rosen’s luncheon is a part of the 2016 UNL Fall Research Fair. Learn more at http://research.unl.edu/fallresearchfair/.

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Zucker named Innovator of the Year

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Iriving Zucker, Ph.D., accepts the 2016 Innovator of the Year award.

Iriving Zucker, Ph.D., accepts the 2016 Innovator of the Year award.

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 6, 2016)—Irving Zucker, Ph.D., landed top honors at UNeMed’s annual Research Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception last week, taking home the 2016 “Innovator of the Year” award.

From left are UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., Joyce Solheim, Ph.D., Tantiana Bronich, Ph.D., and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D.

From left are UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., Joyce Solheim, Ph.D., Tantiana Bronich, Ph.D., and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D.

Collaborators Joyce Solheim, Ph.D., and Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D., also earned special recognition as the inventors of the “Most Promising New Invention” of 2016. Together, Drs. Solheim and Bronich developed a nanoparticle formulation of a protein called CCL21. The nanoformulated CCL21 has shown great potential for the treatment of cancer.

Hosted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s technology transfer and commercialization office, the Innovation Awards recognized more than 150 UNMC innovators. Each year, UNeMed sponsors Innovation Week as a way to celebrate and honor all UNMC faculty, students and staff who reported a new invention, secured a U.S. patent or licensed a technology.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D., and UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., presented the awards.

Dr. Zucker, UNMC’s 2007 Scientist Laureate, won the Innovator of the Year Award on the back of a new treatment strategy he and his team developed for cardiovascular disease.

“This was really an unexpected honor,” Dr. Zucker said during his brief acceptance speech. “Really, the credit goes not to me—I provided the laboratory and maybe some of the funding to get it started—but I’ve been very fortunate to have some really talented people who work in our laboratory.”

His laboratory is focused on reducing the excessive sympathetic nerve activity found in chronic heart failure and in patients with high blood pressure. A biopharmaceutical company recently licensed one of Dr. Zucker’s innovations in a collaborative agreement that could lead to an FDA-approved treatment for chronic heart failure and high blood pressure.

Above, UNMC researcher Don Wang, Ph.D., was among the few who earned recognition in all three categories: New Invention, U.S. Patent and Licensed Technology.

Above, UNMC researcher Don Wang, Ph.D., was among the few who earned recognition in all three categories: New Invention, U.S. Patent and Licensed Technology.

The nanoparticle developed by Drs. Solheim and Bronich is based on a protein messenger, or chemokine, that has the ability to attract immune cells to a tumor. But the chemokine, CCL21, degrades too quickly inside the body to do much good. By encapsulating the chemokine in a nanoparticle, Drs. Solheim and Bronich found a way to prolong the effects of CCL21.

Previously, Dr. Solheim was named a 2006 Distinguished Scientist. Dr. Bronich was a 2007 New Investigator Award winner, then a 2011 Distinguished Scientist. In 2014 Dr. Bronich was named Scientist Laureate, UNMC’s highest honor bestowed on researchers.

Graduate student Erik Rask won a 3D printer during the event.

Graduate student Erik Rask won a 3D printer during the event.

UNeMed, which celebrated its 25th anniversary during Innovation Week, raffled away a free 3D printer to Erik Rask, a graduate student in UNMC’s cardiovascular and biomechanics laboratory.

Innovation Week began Monday, Oct. 4, with a Kick-off event that featured UNeMed staffers handing out free T-shirts and other items. Innovation Week continued Tuesday with a panel discussion about the biomedical applications of 3D printing.

On Wednesday, UNeMed hosted its fourth UNMC Technology Demonstration Day, which featured six startups and technologies.

Learn more about all Innovation Week events at http://www.unemed.com/innovation-week or view pictures from all events on UNeMed’s Flickr page at http://bit.ly/InnovationWeek16pics.

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Six technologies featured at Demo Day 2016

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demoday16_cyborgbeast1_5x7

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 5, 2016)—Some of the university’s more intriguing technologies and startups were on display Wednesday evening during the fourth installment of UNMC Technology Demonstration Day at the Michael F. Sorrell Center.

A part of UNeMed’s 2016 Innovation Week, Demo Day featured six short presentations, and examined some UNMC technologies and partnerships as they move toward the marketplace.

The featured companies and technologies were Orion BioScience, sympathetic vasomotion, Avert, Prommune Inc., Cyborg Beast and Chrysalis Medical. Videos of all presentations will soon be made available on UNeMed’s YouTube channel.

Josh Sestak

Josh Sestak

Josh Sestak, Ph.D., the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Orion BioScience, began with the first of six 10-minute presentations. Orion is an Omaha startup working on a platform technology that holds the potential as a cure for autoimmune diseases.

Peter Pellegrino, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at UNMC, is a researcher in
Irving Zucker’s, Ph.D., laboratory where they’ve developed an system for accurately measuring the sympathetic nervous system. The technology—referred to as sympathetic vasomotion—could be used to non-invasively measure neural signals that regulate blood flood flow. It could be used to improve significantly current procedures related to high blood pressure, blood loss and neurodegenerative diseases.

demoday16_badeer1_5x7

Preston Badeer

Preston Badeer, CEO, presented Avert’s concussion detection platform. The technology works much like a bathroom scale, detecting imperceptible shifts in a person’s balance. When a person such as a football player suffers a concussion, the small shifts in balance change patterns. The automated system might be the earliest and most accurate way to detect when a person has suffered a concussion. More importantly, it can also accurately gauge when a persona has full recovered from a concussion as well.

demoday16_almurrani1_5x7

Sam Al-Murrani

Prommune Inc. CEO Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., outlined his company’s approach to fighting infections. Prommune’s technology is based on a synthetic protein that boosts the natural immune response to certain infections.

Jorge Zuniga, Ph.D., a researcher at UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building, presented Cyborg Beast, a prosthetic hand for children that is made entirely with 3D-printed parts. The bright—and often multi-colored—hands are popular worldwide, and look like something out of the pages of science fiction. One of his designs led to actor Robert Downey Jr. presenting a version of Zuniga’s cybernetic “Iron Man” hand to a Florida boy. His goal is to provide low-cost or even free prosthetics to children around the world, and he is expected to outline some his latest developments.

Hemodialysis catheter

Hemodialysis catheter

Chrysalis Medical CEO Ron Allen closed out the presentations with a talk about a new kidney dialysis catheter that is expected to enter the market within the next six months. Built into the new catheter’s tip is a small balloon, similar to the type used in angioplasty procedures. The catheter’s balloon is used to break up and minimize the amount of tissue that often builds up on dialysis catheters. The innovative device eliminates most of the need for the current standard of care, which is often the costly and somewhat risky procedure of replacing a blocked or obstructed catheter.

Innovation Week concluded this evening at 4 p.m. in the Durham Research Center auditorium with the Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception. There, UNeMed will honor all UNMC faculty, students and staff who disclosed a new invention, received a U.S. patent or licensed a technology in fiscal year 2016. UNeMed will also name the 2016 Innovator of the Year and the 2016 Most Promising New Invention.

Officials will also draw for a free 3D printer, which can be won by any UNMC personnel or student who enter the drawing at any Innovation Week event. They must be present at the drawing in order to win, however.

For more information about all 2016 Innovation Week events, go to http://www.unemed.com/innovation-week.

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Innovation Awards are tonight

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awards_300x300OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 6, 2016)—Innovation Week wraps up tonight with the 10th Annual Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception at 4 p.m. in the Durham Research Center auditorium.

The awards honor all University of Nebraska Medical Center students, faculty and staff who disclosed a new invention, received a U.S. patent where a contributor on a licensed technology. UNeMed will also announce the 2016 Innovator of the Year and the Most Promising New Invention of 2016.

UNeMed will also draw the winning name of the free 3D printer, but the entrant must be present to win.

Earlier this week, UNeMed hosted a Kick-Off event, a panel discussion about 3D printing in healthcare, and the UNMC Technology Demonstration Day.

Learn more about all Innovation Week events at http://www.unemed.com/innovation-week.

All Innovation Week events are free and open to all.

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Future of medicine, 3D printing explored during panel

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UNeMed's annual Innovation Week continued Oct. 4 with a panel discussion about the biomedical applications in healthcare. Above, R. Gabe Linke, the 3D printing coordinator at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, shows guests a 3D-printed model of a newborn's heart. Surgeons used the model to study abnormalities, and planned an eventually successful procedure to correct the problems.

UNeMed’s annual Innovation Week continued Oct. 4 with a panel discussion about the biomedical applications in healthcare. Above, R. Gabe Linke, the 3D printing coordinator at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, shows guests a 3D-printed model of a newborn’s heart. Surgeons used the model to study abnormalities, and planned an eventually successful procedure to correct the problems.

 

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 4, 2016)—A panel of 3D printing experts convened Wednesday afternoon to discuss the potential impact the technology could have on healthcare and biomedical research.

The panel explored biomedical 3D printing applications that are currently possible, and examined some ground-breaking uses to come in the near-future. The panel also discussed the increased use and accessibility of 3D printing, not just for healthcare purposes but for everyone.

The best approach to get started in 3D printing is simply to dive right in. Buy an inexpensive consumer model and start experimenting, panelist Jorge Zuniga, Ph.D., told an estimated 68 onlookers.

 Panelists R. Gabe Linke (left) of Omaha's Children's Hospital and Medical Center and Jorge Zuniga (right) of UNO during the 3D-printing discussion Tuesday in the DRC auditorium.

Panelists R. Gabe Linke (left) of Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and Jorge Zuniga (right) of UNO during the 3D-printing discussion Tuesday in the DRC auditorium.

“For the holidays…get one of those cheap ones, and give it to your kid,” said Dr. Zuniga, who specializes in prosthetic research in UNO’s biomechanics department. “Then you’re going to learn how to use it… Download files and just print stuff…By doing this you’re going to understand the applications in your field, and how you can solve a problem. It’s not that complicated. You can learn this.”

Dr. Zuniga took a similar approach when he jumped headlong into 3D printing about five years ago. He had heard about a project in South Africa creating prosthetics for under-privileged children there. He was frustrated in his attempts to learn more about the program, so he created his own prosthetic.

Armed with little more than some borderline obsessive curiosity and open-source files available to anyone with an internet connection, he and his team created the “Cyborg Beast.” It’s an entirely 3D-printed prosthetic hand for children that looks like something out of a science fiction comic book.

Another panelist, Karen Linder, was another late entry into 3D printing, developing an interest in the area when she learned about a new ceramic printing process. She invested in the technology and helped create a new Omaha startup company, Tethon 3D, where she serves as the CEO. Tethon 3D specializes in a proprietary ceramics printing process that can then be fired in a kiln to create true porcelain objects—and with such intricate designs they would be extremely difficult or impossible to create by any other method.

Panelist and Tethon 3D CEO Karen Linder meets with guests immediately after the event.

Panelist and Tethon 3D CEO Karen Linder meets with guests immediately after the event.

“The resources are there, and the software is getting easier and easier,” she said, urging audience members to explore 3D printing, regardless of their knowledge-base. She added later: “You can learn at any age.”

But Linder’s key point was the potential 3D printing has for personalized or customized healthcare. She talked about the ability to print pills, which could include several medications. Instead of taking multiple pills, a patient in the future might be able to get the same medications with a single pill.

Although customized medications are still a few years away, Omaha Children’s Hospital and Medical Center is bringing personalized care to patients right now. Led by 3D printing coordinator R. Gabe Linke, Children’s uses MRI and CT scans to model patient hearts for 3D-printed replicas. Surgeons then study abnormalities, develop a plan and practice procedures on the models long before the patient enters the operating room.

Children’s doesn’t charge patients for the service, which they have been offering for less than a year, but the practice is already improving outcomes, Linke said.

Panelist and UNMC researcher Bin Duan, Ph.D., meets with guests immediately after the event.

Panelist and UNMC researcher Bin Duan, Ph.D., meets with guests immediately after the event.

UNMC researcher Bin Duan, Ph.D., rounded out the panel group. Dr. Duan heads UNMC bioprinting unit in the Regenerative Medicine Program in the Department of Internal Medicine. He’s working on using sophisticated printers that can use several different types of materials to create tissues suitable for human implantation. More specifically, he wants to create the complicated structures necessary for bone and cartilage implants that could be used to correct birth defects in the jaw.

Researchers elsewhere are working on ways to 3D-print other cellular structures such as organs and blood vessels, he said.

Co-sponsored by UNeMed Corporation, the UNMC 3D Makers Club and the McGoogan Library of Medicine, the 3D printing panel discussion was part of Innovation Week. Innovation Week is a series of events meant to highlight and celebrate the discoveries and creations of UNMC’s faculty, students and staff.

Three events remain for Innovation Week 2016.

Later today, UNeMed will host its fourth UNMC Technology Demonstration Day at 4 p.m. in the Michael F. Sorrell Center amphitheater. Dr. Zuniga will be among the featured presentations. All six speakers will explore startups and technologies developed at the university in short presentations intended for a non-expert audience. Presentations will be followed by a short reception.

Innovation Week wraps up Thursday, Oct. 6 with the iEXCEL Expo and the Innovation Awards.

The iEXCEL Expo is a hands-on display of some of the most advanced medical training tools in the world. It will be held in room 1012 at the Sorrell Center from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Innovation Awards begins at 4 p.m. in the Durham Research Center I auditorium. UNeMed will honor all UNMC researchers, students and faculty who disclosed a new invention, secured a U.S. patent or licensed a technology in fiscal year 2016. An Innovator of the Year and the Most Promising New Invention of 2016 will also be named. UNeMed officials will also announce the winner of a free 3D printer.

Learn more about all Innovation Week events at http://www.unemed.com/innovation-week.

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SBIR contract will fund study to prevent parasite infections

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Sam Sanderson, Ph.D.

Sam Sanderson, Ph.D.

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 5, 2016)—Prommune Inc. was recently awarded a federal contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for the development of vaccines to Toxoplasma gondii infections.

The two-year Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract for $438,932 was awarded by NIAID (contract #HHSN272201600038C) to Prommune, an Omaha startup that spun out of research from Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., a research associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UNMC.

Dr. Sanderson founded Prommune around an immune stimulating peptide he and his team created. Early tests show the peptide, called EP67, has the ability to enhance a more robust natural immune response against infections.

“EP67 is a platform technology,” said Prommune CEO Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., “but with this contract we’ll begin to see the wider therapeutic potential of EP67.”

Prommune and Dr. Sanderson will partner with University of Nebraska at Omaha biology professor and T. gondii expert Paul Davis, Ph.D., to develop a possible vaccine against T. gondii infections.

An estimated 60 million in the U.S. are infected with T. gondii parasites, which is typically acquired from infected cats or eating undercooked meat. For most people, the infection goes unnoticed or presents only temporary flu-like symptoms. Healthy immune systems usually prevent the parasite from causing serious illness, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. But for people with weak or compromised immune systems an infection could lead to a serious condition called toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis occurs when the parasites create cysts within the body. The condition is particularly dangerous if the parasites end up in the brain where cysts can cause neurological and behavioral disorders, or even death. For pregnant women, a T. gondii infection could be transmitted directly to the fetus, creating an increased potential for birth defects. Contact with cat feces is one of the most common routes of transmission, which is why pregnant women are strongly advised against handling cat litter boxes.

Drs. Sanderson and Davis will look to prevent T. gondii infections using the EP67 peptide in the development of vaccines in the Phase I proof-of-concept round of testing. If successful, researchers will apply for Phase II, which would involve further process development leading to human clinical trials and FDA approval.

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the USC 2304(b)(2) USC 253(b)(2), National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. HHSN272201600038C.

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