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Entrepreneurship: UT Research Foundation Announces Maturation Fund Recipients

Category: Research

KNOXVILLE – Treatment for age-related macular degeneration, technology to alert nurses when a newborn patient’s endotracheal tube tip is out of position and a sensor to check for contaminates in jet fuel are among the recipients of funding from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) kicked off Global Entrepreneurship Week by announcing the recipients of its annual maturation funding program. UTRF is a not-for-profit organization responsible for commercializing and licensing technology discovered by faculty across the UT System.

This year, UTRF is awarding $120,000 to eight groups of faculty inventors. Each team receives $15,000 to further develop their technology.

“Technologies that are matured toward a viable product stand a greater chance of being licensed and long term commercial success,” said UTRF President & CEO David Washburn.

Some technologies invented at the University of Tennessee need additional development in order to make it to the marketplace. To help inventors move their technologies closer to licensing and commercialization, UTRF awards grants each year through its annual maturation funding program.

Since the maturation funding program began in 2007, $840,000 has been awarded to more than 60 projects and resulted in more than 30 commercial licenses.

In 2012, Yu Liu and Randall J. Nelson of UTHSC’s Anatomy and Neurobiology Department were recipients of a maturation grant, and their technology is now the basis of a Memphis-based startup called HandMinder, Inc. The company is developing a product designed to help patients regain hand and finger control after a stroke.

2013 recipients awarded by the UTRF Health Science Center office are:

  • Dr. Gabor Tigyi, professor and chair of physiology, for a preclinical proof of concept study using an autotaxin inhibitor to inhibit liver fibrosis and carcinogenesis;
  • Dr. Monica Jablonski, professor of ophthalmology, for pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of a novel treatment for age-related macular degeneration;
  • Dr. Rajesh Dudani, assistant professor of pediatrics, for technology to continuously monitor the endotracheal tube tip (ETT) position in the newborn patients. This system would alert the NICU team in real time when a newborn’s endotracheal tube slips out of position, preventing pulmonary complications and eliminating the infant’s exposure to repeated radiation doses;
  • Dr. Karen Hasty, professor of orthopedic surgery, for diagnosis of cartilage injury and early osteoarthritis. This approach has the potential to detect the very earliest changes to the joint surface with high sensitivity and specificity, allowing for earlier diagnosis, more effective treatment, and better outcomes.

2013 recipients awarded by the UTRF Multi-Disciplinary office include:

  • Dr. Steve Ripp, research assistant professor in the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at UT Knoxville, for developing bioluminescent zebrafish as a tool for high-throughput drug screening;
  • Dr. Ziling (Ben) Xue, professor in chemistry at UT Knoxville, for a novel chemical sensor with high sensitivity toward biodiesel contaminant in jet fuel and diesel. The sensor is, fast, inexpensive and can be used in portable device for contaminant detection;
  • Dr. Neal Stewart, professor in plant science at the UT Institute of Agriculture, for short and strong inducible synthetic promoters;
  • Dr. Feng Chen, associate professor in plant science at the UT Institute of Agriculture, for novel terpinoids for use in bio-pesticide and bio-nematacides.

The program was open to all University of Tennessee campuses and institutes. The selection process included evaluation of three key areas: (1) demonstration of a path for commercial development, (2) market potential, and (3) stage of development. As part of the award process, UTRF will receive interim and final reports from the researchers that will describe increased knowledge and improvements in the subject technology. This information is expected to assist UTRF in better positioning the technologies for licensing.

A call for submissions for next year’s Maturation Funding Program will be announced in October 2014. For more details on the program and past winners, visit In FY2013, UTRF helped establish four startup companies and received 145 new invention disclosures.

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Category: Research