Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC)

Making Innovation Central to Rhode Island's Future Gina M. Raimondo, Governor

STAC Awards 23 Scientists, 10 Institutions Funding for Collaborative Projects

Published on January 28, 2009

Rhode Island Boosts R&D Investment with Competitive Research Award Program Targeting Collaborative Efforts

The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) today announced the awardees of the 2009 Collaborative Research Award program.  The awards will support seven projects, representing 23 scientists from 10 organizations throughout Rhode Island.

The program is designed to stimulate collaborative research projects that are well-positioned to attract significant follow-on funding from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health or are ripe for commercialization.

The 2009 award recipients include academic and industry scientists pursuing research in renewable energy, medicine, engineering, biology, chemistry, pharmacology and environmental science.

The awards will fund:

  • Development of control mechanisms to enhance the safety of prosthetic limbs
  • Development of technologies to increase reproductive success in female cancer patients
  • Techniques to decrease common bacterial infections at hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Identifying and assaying novel proteins that may cause/deter pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia
  • The acquisition of shared equipment that will enable Rhode Island scientists to enhance drug development
  • Further development of a wave energy converter to provide power to off-shore buoys used for emergency beacons or surveillance
  • Development of a water-tracking device to aid in ecosystem management

Awardees include scientists from Bluewater Designworks, Brown University, Electro Standards Laboratories, Narragansett Bay Commission, Nunnery Orthotics, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island Hospital, University of Rhode Island, Providence VA Medical Center and Women and Infants Hospital.

To administer the program, STAC uses a competitive application process similar to that used by the National Science Foundation.  Peer reviewers who are scientific experts familiar with a proposal‚??s area of focus evaluate the proposal on the basis of scientific merit and broader impacts in the community.  A subcommittee of STAC members also review the proposals based on how well the proposal meets the objectives of the program.  Awardees represent the most exciting proposals which combine high scientific merit with opportunity for significant follow-on funding or substantial commercial potential, such as valuable licensing prospects or the creation of new companies, at the completion of the one-year grant cycle.

With the inception of the Rhode Island Research Alliance in 2007, STAC has created a competitive, merit-based award program to support projects that promote inter-organizational, multi-disciplinary collaboration which are positioned to attract follow-on funding from out-of-state sources.  With this follow-on funding, Rhode Island has the potential of increasing its competitive research capacity, advancing technological development and boosting commercialization potential within the state.  Such projects are especially important to assist our recovery from today‚??s weakened economy and create a basis for sustainable economic growth in Rhode Island.

In 2007 and 2008, STAC awarded approximately $3 million to 17 teams of researchers in 29 research institutions.  This funding provided support for projects such as the development of high-tech toys to aid children with cerebral palsy, and increasing the quality of video footage that can aid in criminal investigations.

Proof of the catalytic nature of the program was demonstrated by receipt of $1.6 million in follow-on funding from out-of-state sources, and trials that are bringing medical devices and computer imaging technology closer to the marketplace.

This year, a total of 40 research projects were submitted for review. Read articles from the Providence Business News and Providence Journal.

About the Awardees

Project 1: Development of a Reliable Stumble Detection System for Artificial Legs

This team is working to develop a more reliable stumble detection system that will improve the safe use of prosthetic legs.

Collaborators:
He Huang, Ph.D, University of Rhode Island
Susan E. D‚??Andrea, Ph.D, Brown University
Michael Nunnery, CPO, Nunnery Orthotic and Prosthetic Technologies, Inc.

Summary:
This team seeks to improve the safety of prosthetic legs by developing a reliable and responsive stumble detection system.  This system will permit computer-controlled artificial limbs to provide active stumble recovery, using input from the user‚??s neural reactions and kinematic feedbacks from the prosthetic leg.  With the population of lower-limb amputees in the United States large and growing, designing high performance and safe prosthetic legs is a critical concern in order to reduce the burden of the disability.

This proposal will bring together research groups at the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, and Nunnery Orthotic &and Prosthetic Technologies, Inc.  A successful prototype should lead quickly to a Rhode-Island supplied, commercially available component that will enhance the safety of prosthetic limbs.

Project 2:  An Application of the 3D Petri-dish:  The Human Artificial Ovary

This collaboration aims to utilize new technology to increase reproductive success in cancer patients by the creation of a human artificial ovary.

Collaborators:
Jeffrey Morgan, Ph. D, Brown University
Sandra Carson, MD, Women and Infants Hospital
Anubhav Tripathi, Ph. D, Brown University

Summary:
While Women and Infants Hospital performs approximately 600 in vitro fertilization aspirations per year, there are few reproductive options for women who face chemotherapy or radiation treatment.  This team seeks to develop a new method for in vitro fertilization that will enable female cancer patients to preserve their viable oocytes, or immature eggs, prior to treatment.  The preserved eggs will be matured in vitro via a bio-artificial ovary and the fertilization process can begin.

Through previous research, this team has developed a 3-D Petri dish that allocates the culture of cells.  The 3-D Petri dish has a variety of other potential applications in areas such as tissue engineering, cancer research, development biology and drug discovery.

The grant will enable the team to work with a local company to manufacture this 3-D Petri dish technology at low cost.  Volume production will enable continued research to perfect the human artificial ovary.  The broad potential of this technology provides attractive prospects for commercialization.

Project 3: Decreasing Bacterial Adhesions to Medical Devices Prevents Nosocomial Infection

This team seeks to develop a surface treatment technique to decrease the ability of bacteria to stick to medical devices, which will reduce the risk of serious infections commonly found in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Collaborators:
Keiko M. Tarquinio, M.D., Rhode Island Hospital
Thomas J. Webster, Ph. D, Brown University

Summary:
This collaboration between Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University aims to decrease the likelihood of infections resulting from treatments at hospitals and healthcare facilities.  A highly common infection, ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP), found at these facilities, typically is a result of using endotracheal tubes (ETTs).  The researchers have evidence to suggest that nanoscale modification of the surface of such tubes and other medical devices will decrease adhesion by bacteria. The work builds on earlier work by Dr. Webster, and is expected to lead to further research funded by the NIH, followed by broad commercialization.

Project 4: Identification of Deficiencies and Establishment of Predictive Assays for Enigmatic Pregnancy Complications

This project aims to identify a novel protein found in patients suffering from pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, that can be used to identify a treatment which will impede these traumatic pregnancy issues.

Collaborators:
Surendra Sharma, MBBS, Ph.D., Women and Infants Hospital
James Padbury, M.D., Women and Infants Hospital
Zahir Shaikh, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island

Summary:
Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) affect 10-15 percent of pregnancies.  These complications can cause maternal and fetal mortality, but their origins remain unknown.  This collaboration will utilize expertise from both Women and Infants Hospital and the University of Rhode Island to better understand the mechanisms underlying the nature of these complications.

This project aims to use serum taken from afflicted patients to identify novel protein(s) that may cause these traumatic complications.  The team will utilize state-of-the-art technology, found at the University of Rhode Island‚??s INBRE facility, to aid with the protein(s) identification.

Once the potential protein(s) are identified, experimental models will aid in finding those that can save pregnancy and those that cause complications like preeclampsia.  The team will use the results from this work to apply for future funding, and also expects to patent its technology.

Project 5:  Synthesis and Development of Novel Neuroprotective Drugs

This project will enhance Rhode Island‚??s research infrastructure by making a critical piece of equipment available to scientists working on drug development in Rhode Island.

Collaborators:
John Marshall, Ph.D., Brown University
John Williams, Ph.D., Rhode Island College
Christopher Seto, Ph.D., Brown University

Summary:
Building infrastructure and providing leading-edge equipment to our scientists is critical to keeping Rhode Island at the forefront of competitive research.  This collaboration between Brown University and Rhode Island College seeks to purchase the recently developed ‚??Milestone MultiSYNTH labstation‚?? which will allow researchers to create commercial amounts of pharmaceuticals, thereby increasing the state‚??s research potential. The Milestone MultiSYNTH is the only microwave synthesizer that can operate in both single-mode and multimode formats, a valuable advantage.

Through previous studies, Dr. John Marshall and Dr. John C. Williams have discovered a lead compound that improves the tolerance of treatment for patients suffering from stroke, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injuries.  With the help from the MultiSYNTH labstation, this team will be able to get more research done with less time and expense.

This project will also build upon a previous STAC award to Dr. Wolfgang Peti (Brown University) by employing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC).  Dr. Peti received funding from STAC in 2008 to purchase a state-of-the-art Isothermal Titration Calorimeter that supports proteomics research.  This team will bring together pharmacology, chemistry, pharmaceutical and clinical establishments to pool expertise and resources within the state.

Project 6: Development of Renewable Energy Wave Powered Generator for Free Floating Ocean Buoys

This collaboration between Electro Standards Laboratories and the University of Rhode Island will develop designs for a reliable wave energy conversion system to power coastal buoys.

Collaborators:
Raymond B. Sepe Jr., Ph.D., Electro Standards Laboratories
Steven P. Bastien, Ph.D., Electro Standards Laboratories
Malcolm L. Spaulding, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
Stephan T. Grilli, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
Annette R. Grilli-Delrez, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island

Summary:
This STAC funding will enable the team to continue its development of a reliable wave energy conversion device for coastal buoys.  The device will convert mechanical wave energy to electrical energy to power emergency beacons and coastal observation systems, thus meeting the needs of the rapidly growing costal surveillance market. The technology has good potential for scaling up to power larger systems as well.

With the growing interest in alternative energy sources and the need for increased security, this project has the high potential to generate interest from federal funding sources and corporate companies.

Project 7: Development of Lagrangian Measurement Techniques for Coastal Water Management

This team seeks to design a shallow water Lagrangian float that is capable of tracking the path and rate of currents flowing in coastal waters.  This will provide a new technique to better understand the circulation of coastal waters.

Collaborators:
Henry Sharpe III, President, Bluewater Designworks, LLC
Chris Roman, Ph.D.., University of Rhode Island
Chris Kincaid, Ph.D.., University of Rhode Island
Thomas P. Uva, Director of Planning, Policy and Regulation, Narragansett Bay Commission

Summary:
Understanding the circulation of coastal waters is an important component to ecosystem management.  But racking and monitoring water circulation through a coastal system has proved difficult, due to changes in coastal terrain and variations in water properties.  The collaboration between Bluewater Design, LLC, University of Rhode Island and the Narragansett Bay Commission has designed a variable buoyancy float device that can monitor in difficult testing areas, such as the coastal region.

The grant will be used to build on technology already created by this team, adding GPS tracking, environmental sensors, and improved safety features to make the system commercially viable.

The enhanced prototype will be tested for its ability to address coastal management questions and meet the needs of potential customers.  Device applications include tracking red-tide and algae blooms, pollutants, and fish kills. It is expected to attract large interest from water-quality consultants, advocacy groups, and environmental management and stewardship agencies.

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