POP Grants Presents Second Round of Funding for UCI Technologies

Past Tides
May 25, 2018 By Jackie Connor

In May, Proof of Product (POP) Grants featured the POP Grants Award Showcase, hosted by Ron King, Applied Innovation senior director of research translation programs. The event is dedicated to providing updates on UCI technologies funded by the second round of POP Grants. POP Grants provide gap funding to help move research and intellectual property towards commercially viable products and services. The POP Grants Award Showcase featured six short presentations and status updates by a researcher from each respective project.

Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Aileen Anderson, Ph.D., featured an approach using C3a neutralizing antibodies for glioblastoma treatments during her presentation “C3a Neutralization to Target Cancer Stem Cells and Glioblastoma.” Glioblastoma, an aggressive malignant tumor that affects the brain or spine, is often treated with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. However, none of these treatments effectively target the glioblastoma cancer stem cell population, according to Anderson’s presentation.

Her team’s technology identified a novel set of signaling pathways that are based on interactions between the immune system and central nervous system. While gathering pre-clinical data, the team realized an immune molecule was controlling the stem cell’s functions, a difficult target to identify.

“Our proposed solution comes out of the work we did with human neural stem cells focusing on spinal cord injury,” said Anderson. “We wondered if this pathway was a new way to target glioblastoma stem cells. We asked if we blocked this pathway, could we reverse the expansion of glioblastoma stem cells in a dish, and the answer was yes.”

In animal models, it was found that with the treatment, the survival rate improved from 14-21 days to five months with no recurrence of glioblastoma. Anderson’s next steps are to find out if the team can essentially derail glioblastoma. With their POP Grant, the team will investigate the most efficient targets to benefit from lower regulatory hurdles, given the severity of the disease.

Professor and Chair of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, School of Biological Sciences, Christopher Hughes, Ph.D., discussed his commercial development of a vascularized tissue platform for drug screening during his presentation “A Vascularized Platform for Personalized Anti-Cancer Drug Screening.”

Hughes’ team is tackling drug development and identifying ideal drug combinations for patients. He highlighted that poor efficacy and safety account for 76 percent of drug failures in a phase II clinical trial or later, and contribute to an estimated R&D cost of $2.6 billion per drug.

“Our idea is if we can improve the pipeline, we can reduce the cost of drug development,” said Hughes. “We are taking our technology we have in hand to grow three-dimensional tissues in a dish and mesh that with microfluidics—we are re-creating miniature organs on chips.”

With the POP Grant, the team identified a thermoplastic material and a manufacturer that is suitable for scaling their technology’s platform. The startup Kino Biosciences will license the technology from UCI and currently wants to expand.

Tim Abram, Ph.D., director of R&D at Velox Biosystems, a local startup company, represented Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Weian Zhao, Ph.D., for the evening. Abram talked about the prototype development of a one-step droplet device to amplify nucleic acids during his presentation “Digital Detection of Pathogens in Unprocessed Blood Using One-Step Blood Droplet PCR.” There is a large need for a rapid and sensitive bacteria detection test, namely regarding blood stream infections such as sepsis. This device has a high sensitivity for single target detection with “sample-to-answer” results in one-to-four hours. The technology, which Velox Biosystems will license from UCI, can achieve both speed and sensitivity with small sample volumes.

“About six months ago, we have demonstrated the technology feasibility through several published studies and we’re really at that transition point between tech transfer and product development,” said Abram.

After receiving the POP Grant, the team successfully completed several milestones including an assay to enable one-step blood droplet polymerase chain reaction test. The team also has submitted a grant for an academic-industry partnership with the National Institutes of Health program for assessing liquid biopsies, as well as a new patent proposal. They aim to continue their startup efforts by raising funds, gaining regulatory approval and clinical validation of their technology.

Ehsan Shamloo, UCI Ph.D. student, represented Chancellor’s Professor in Biomedical Engineering for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering Marc Madou, Ph.D., for the evening. Shamloo discussed the concept of a cell phone and tablet compatible point-of-care system for bacterial and antibody detection during his presentation “Hummingbird: Rapid Uropathogens Identification and Antibiotic Susceptibility Test for Point of Care Applications.” The team used high aspect ratio carbon-based electrochemical sensors to amplify the detection signal and improve the limit of detection.

“In this approach, we basically have interdigitated electrode lying next to each other in a form of an array, and instead of only being oxidized once on the surface of the electrode, the target molecule cycles multiple times between two differently polarized electrodes and then diffuses to the surface,” said Shamloo.

As a result of POP Grant funding, the team has developed an electrochemical assay with sub-nano molar detection limits, optimized the technology’s materials, and worked with the Tecnólogico de Monterrey, located in Monterrey, Mexico, to build a cheap and portable bi-potentiostat, or an instrument that controls the voltage difference between two electrodes. The team plans to continue to work on improving their technology by lowering the limit of detection, optimizing substrate materials and developing out a full prototype. Professor of Biomedical Engineering Tibor Juhasz, Ph.D., talked about the development of a device based off optical photodynamic therapy for vision correction applications in his presentation “Two Photon, Non Linear Corneal Cross Linking for Treatment of Low Refractive Errors.” Often used as a form of cancer treatment, optical photodynamic therapy involves monitoring dynamic molecular responses. The team’s technology focuses on a low-risk non-invasive procedure for safe refractive corrections.

“Our solution, non-linear corneal crosslinking, is noninvasive,” said Tibor. “Rather than using a single photo absorption of 370 nanometer beam, we use the two photon absorption of a double wave length of 760 nanometer beam.”

Riboflavin, also known as B12, is also considered a photoinitiator, meaning that upon absorption of light, it undergoes a reaction that produces reactive species. Here, the riboflavin is stimulated using femtosecond laser light. The oxygen free radicals generated from exciting riboflavin induce cross-linking of the collagen molecules, which are present on the surface of the eye, and subsequently result in mechanical stiffening.

With POP Grants, the team obtained a state-of-the-art femtosecond laser and built a novel compact optical parametric amplifier capable of generating very stable 760 nanometer femtosecond laser pulses. Moving forward, the team plans to incorporate into a startup company, license the technology and apply for more commercialization funds.

Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Athina Markopoulou, Ph.D., discussed the latest updates to the software tool used to intercept network traffic in and out of a mobile devices during her presentation “AntMonitor for Mobile Data Transparency and Privacy.”

“Our goal with this project was to provide a way to allow the user to be able to see if private information has transmitted outside of the device and decide whether to proceed or stop it completely,” said Markopoulou.

The team used a network based approach to develop a tool that views every piece of information that is sent out of the device to check for leaked private information. As opposed to early approaches that used a VPN server, the team’s uses a hybrid deep packet inspection and machine learning to decide if the user can transmit private information. The app essentially allows the end user to gain control over their mobile data.

Using the POP Grant funds, the team validated their technology and explored their business model. As a result, they are in discussions with potential partners. The team will continue to conduct more research on machine learning and automated approaches for improved user experiences, as well as continue to work on a complete proof-of-concept.

The third POP Grant Award Showcase will be November 14, 2018. The request for proposals (RFP) for Round 4 funding of POP Grants will be released on June 4, 2018. For more information about the POP Grants program, click here.