Hanjun Wang named Innovator of the Year at 2021 Innovation Awards

Innovation Week, News

Hanjun Wang, MD: 2021 Innovator of the Year

Hanjun Wang, MD: 2021 Innovator of the Year

OMAHA, Nebraska (February 10, 2022)—UNeMed’s annual Innovation Week concluded today with its Research Innovation Awards Ceremony, which featured a Most Promising New Invention, the Startup of the Year and the Innovator of the Year.

For the second time in the event’s 15-year history, the Innovation Awards was a virtual event in response to concerns related to the ongoing pandemic. Originally scheduled for October, the event was postponed with the hope that a delay would allow for an in-person ceremony. Instead, UNeMed hosted the ceremony via Zoom.

A recording of the entire ceremony is available on UNeMed’s YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/2TU55sKYNUs.

The ceremony featured remarks from Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, MD, and Vice Chancellor for Research, Jennifer Larsen, MD. UNeMed’s CEO and President Michael Dixon also delivered a short presentation in review of the previous fiscal year.

The highlight of the event was the awards ceremony, where UNeMed recognized all the inventors who contributed to a new invention disclosure, secured a U.S. patent or had a technology licensed. In addition, three special awards were presented, including Hanjun Wang, MD, as the 2021 Innovator of the Year.

An associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Dr. Wang focuses on innovative work developing 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.

Dr. Knarr

Dr. Knarr



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.

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; Travis Vanderheyden, research and development engineer in the Machining and Prototyping Core; and Russell Buffum, research and development engineer in the Machining and Prototyping Core.

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.

Finally, UNeMed presented UNMC chemist Dong Wang, PhD, with the 2021 Startup of the Year Award for his new company, Ensign Pharmaceutical.

Dr. Wang

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.

More information about Innovation Week and the Innovation Awards ceremony, including its history and awardees, can be found at https://www.unemed.com/innovation-week.

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