Innovation Awards

Innovation Awardsinnovation awards badge
UNeMed's annual Research Innovation Awards Banquet is the culmination of a week of activities that celebrate research and innovation at UNMC and UNO. The awards recognize faculty, students and staff that invented a new technology, licensed an invention or secured intellectual property rights during the previous fiscal year. UNeMed also presents Emerging Inventor, Lifetime Achievement, and Innovator of the Year awards as circumstances dictate. Finally, UNeMed also presents a “Most Promising New Invention” as an annual award. In 2018, the first Startup of the Year award was presented by UNeTech, the University’s incubator and accelerator program.

The 2022 Innovation Awards is invitation-only, and will be held at the Hilton Omaha at 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13. You may request an invitation at or 402-559-2468.

The 2021 Research Innovation Awards Banquet was held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, via Zoom. Hanjun Wang, MD, was named the Innovator of the Year for his work on a variety of diseases; Brian Knarr, PhD, Travis Vanderheyden, and Russell Buffum won the Most Promising New Invention award; and Dong Wang, PhD, took home the Startup of the Year award.

Download the 2021 Innovation Awards Program here.

Innovation Awards Demo Day Past Events

Innovator of the Year

Innovator of the YearHanjun Wang, MD, an associate professor in the College of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology at UNMC was named the 2021 Innovator of the year.

Dr. Wang focuses on novel treatment strategies for a variety of diseases, including heart failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome and peripheral artery disease.

More specifically, his team is looking at the role spinal afferent neurons play in regulating disease onset and progression. He has identified a number of different approaches to target spinal afferent neurons. One of these approaches focuses on localized administration of resiniferatoxin, a potent neurotoxin that can ablate specific nerves. Dr. Wang is exploring resiniferatoxin as a possible treatment for hypertension, heart failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome and peripheral artery disease.

Some of those applications have been licensed by an undisclosed biotech company that is working on developing them for clinical use. As part of this relationship, Dr. Wang has helped bring in more than $1.1 million in sponsored research to develop this therapeutic approach.

In addition, Dr. Wang has developed other approaches for targeting spinal afferent neurons. One of which has been licensed into a startup company, Inflaneurgo, which is working on finding a partner to help advance some of these ideas.

In total, Dr. Wang has submitted 13 inventions, including three in fiscal year 2021. These inventions have resulted in 21 active patents and patent applications, three license agreements, and two sponsored research agreements.

Most Promising New Invention

Brian Knarr, Travis Venderheyden and Russell Buffum

The Most Promising New Invention of 2021 was presented to a trio of innovators in the Department of Biomechanics at UNO: Brian Knarr, PhD, associate professor and Director of the Machining and Prototyping Core at UNO (left); Travis Vanderheyden, research and development engineer in the Machining and Prototyping Core (center); and Russell Buffum, research and development engineer in the Machining and Prototyping Core (right).

The "Improved Self-Pacing Treadmill" adjusts its speed to the runner—whether a user wants to run, walk or trot, the treadmill adjusts to the user's pace, without needing any other input. In speeding up or slowing down to match a runner's speed, the new treadmill will make home and gym workouts safer and more realistic.

Startup of the Year

Dong WangThe Startup of the Year award went to Ensign Pharmaceutical and founder Dong Wang, PhD.

Dr. Wang, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the College of Pharmacy, created a thermosensitive hydrogel formulation called ProGel, a novel platform technology that can deliver a variety of therapeutics. ProGel has attracted wide interest as the cornerstone technology for his startup.

Ensign Pharmaceutical recently secured nearly $2 million in federal research grant funding, which will support pre-clinical studies needed to approach regulatory approval. Ensign won the 2020 Business Innovation Live Pitch competition in Phoenix during the Orthopaedic Research Society’s annual meeting.

Also, Ensign was selected to present at highly selective startup conferences, the Invest Midwest Venture Capital Forum and Destination Startup.

2021 Innovation Awards Program

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Award Winners

Special Awards

2021 Ensign Pharmaceutical Startup of the Year
2021 Hanjun Wang, MD Innovator of the Year
2020 BreezMed Startup of the Year
2020 COVID-19 Inventors Innovators of the Year
2019 FutureAssure Startup of the Year
2019 Benson Edagwa, Ph.D. Emerging Inventor
2019 FutureAssure Startup of the Year
2018 UNO Biomechanics Department Innovator of the Year
2018 Centese, Inc. Startup of the Year
2017 Donny Suh, M.D. Emerging Inventor
2016 Irving Zucker, Ph.D. Innovator of the Year
2015 Tammy Kielian, Ph.D. Innovator of the Year
2014 Marius Florescu, M.D. Emerging Inventor
2013 Howard Gendelman, M.D. Innovator of the Year
2012 Tammy Kielian, Ph.D. Emerging Inventor
2011 Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D. Lifetime Achievement
2010 Amarnath Natarajan, Ph.D. Emerging Inventor
2009 Rodney Markin, M.D., Ph.D. Lifetime Achievement
2008 Dong Wang, Ph.D. Emerging Inventor
2007 Robert LeVeen, M.D. Lifetime Achievement

Most Promising New Invention

2021 Brian Knarr, PhD; Travis Vanderheyden; Russell Buffum Improved Self-Pacing Treadmill
2020 Joseph McMordie, M.D. and Daniel Sturdell, M.D. Anterior Cervical Space Spreader
2019 Corey Hopkins, Ph.D. PDE4B Selective Inhibitors
2018 Catherine Gebhart, Ph.D. and Varun Kehsarwani, Ph.D. Multiplex assay for rapid detection of HSV1, HSV2, EBV and CNV by qPCR
2017 Jingwei Xie, Ph.D., Mark Carlson, M.D., Shixuan Chen, Ph.D. Nanofiber Sponges for Hemostasis
2016 Joyce Solheim, Ph.D. and Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D. Compositions for Modulated Release of Proteins and Methods of Use Thereof
2015 Michael Wadman, M.D., F.A.S.E.P. &
Thang Nguyen, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-C
Emergency Medicine Care Portfolio:
Wound Irrigation System & Oral
Airway Management
2014 Jason MacTaggart, M.D. Orthagonal AquaBlade
2013 Keshore Bidasee, Ph.D. Targeted Glyoxalase-1 Gene Transfer
to Prevent Cardiovascular and End-
Organ Complications in Diabetes
2012 Gregory Oakley, Ph.D Small Molecule in Vivo Inhibitors of
the N-Terminal Protein Interacting
Domain of RPA1
2011 Babu Padanilam, Ph.D Novel Target for the Treatment of
Renal Fibrosis
2010 Stephen Bonasera, M.D., Ph.D. Noninvasive Monitoring of Functional
Behaviors in Ambulatory Human
2009 Paul Dunman, Ph.D. Novel Antibiotic Compounds
2008 Guangshun (Gus) Wang, Ph.D. Anti-HIV Peptides and Methods of
Use Thereof
2008 Janina Baranowska-Kortylewicz, Ph.D. Sex Hormone Binding Globulin: New
Target for Cancer Therapy

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