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UT Research Foundation Announces Maturation Fund Recipients for 2015

Category: Research

KNOXVILLE – Detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder, insect-resistant crops, the ability to pinpoint radiation sources in real time, and improved treatment of age-related macular degeneration are among the recipients of this year’s maturation funding from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

Technologies invented at the University of Tennessee, like the majority of university discoveries, typically require additional development to attract commercial interest. UTRF awards grants each year through its annual maturation funding program to help researchers advance new technologies on the path to market.

This year, UTRF was fortunate to receive 40 strong applications and is awarding seven groups of faculty inventors. Each team receives $15,000 to further develop their technology and answer important commercialization questions.

“The UTRF Maturation program is a critical piece of UT’s growing commercialization environment.” said David Millhorn, UTRF president and UT executive vice president and vice president for research. “The results of the program over the past several years speak for themselves.”

2015 UTRF Health Science Center awardees include:

  • Monica Jablonski, professor of ophthalmology, for a nanoparticle drug delivery system that provides safe, long-term treatment for age-related macular degeneration.
  • Wei Li, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, for pre-clinical testing of a novel family of anti-cancer compounds.
  • Lawrence Reiter, assistant professor of neurology, for additional clinical testing of a blood test to identify infants and children at high risk for specific forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Ryan Yates, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, for pre-clinical testing of a novel lead compound to treat neovascular disease of the retina.

2015 UTRF Multi-Disciplinary Office awardees include:

  • Feng Chen, associate professor of plant sciences at the UT Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville, for testing a novel insecticidal gene to combat the development of insect resistance.
  • Tarek Hewezi, assistant professor of plant molecular biology at the UT Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville, for testing novel genes to produce soy bean varieties that are resistant to soybean cyst nematodes.
  • Steven Skutnik, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at UT Knoxville, for technology used in detection and determination of radiation sources in real time.

In 2013, Karen Tobias, professor of small animal clinical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, was a recipient of a maturation grant. Her technology was successfully licensed earlier this year to a small business that is developing a product for rapid, easy placement of secure, changeable bandages in the veterinarian market.

The UTRF Maturation Funding Program is 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. Since its inception in 2007, the program has awarded nearly $1 million to more than 70 UT projects and resulted in more than 33 commercial licenses.

UTRF is a not-for-profit organization responsible for commercializing and licensing technology discovered by faculty, staff, and students across the UT System. In FY2014, UTRF helped establish three startup companies and received 152 new invention disclosures.

A call for submissions for next year’s Maturation Funding Program will be announced in fall 2015. For more details on the program and past winners, visit

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Category: Research