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Innovation@Duke

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Spring 2021 Duke Incubation Fund Awards Announced

Collage of 2021 Spring Incubation Fund Winners

Seven projects representing early-stage innovations at Duke University have been awarded Incubation Fund awards totaling more than $249,000.

Established in 2017, the Incubation Fund supports innovation in all schools and departments at Duke with the potential to go to market. While many resources at Duke exist to support research and commercialization, the Incubation Fund—made possible by a gift from I&E advisory board member Jeffrey Citron and his wife, Suzanne—stands out for the support it lends innovations at the earliest stages.

As Duke redoubles efforts to convert research into social impact, after this awards cycle administration of the Incubation Fund will move from Duke I&E to the Office of Translation & Commercialization (OTC).

“We are proud to have stewarded this award to help lower barriers to translation and widen the funnel of Duke faculty and staff participating in early-stage technology transfer,” said Sharlini Sankaran, Director of Translational Programs at I&E. “We are excited to see how the Fund evolves as part of Duke’s broader strategy to fuel translation and commercialization.”

The Incubation Fund awardees for Spring 2021 are:

A novel app to facilitate coordinated care for patients with multiple chronic conditions

Theresa Coles, Kate Ehle, Leslie Zapata Leiva, Bryce Reeve, Sandhya Lagoo-Deenadayalan, Shelley McDonald, and Kevin Weinfurt (Population Health)

With clinical teams lacking useful tools to coordinate care for patients, particularly those with multiple chronic conditions, this app facilitates patients and clinicians to co-produce treatment goals and tracks their progress. With this award, the team will conduct a user acceptance testing study at Duke Hospitals before improving and refining the app.

Systems and methods for minimally invasive rib fixation

Joseph Fernandez-Moure (Surgery) and Ken Gall (Mechanical Engineering) with Adam Michael Shiroff (Surgery, University of Pennsylvania)

Using current methods, fractured ribs cannot be splinted or stabilized without surgery, which can be highly invasive and can result in complications; patients with rib fractures thus face long recovery times and potential complications like pneumonia. This team has developed and prototyped a minimally invasive system for the surgical stabilization of rib fractures that will reduce risk of complications during and after surgery. This award will be used to optimize the design and refine prototype development.

Gene therapy for glaucoma

Pratap Challa (Ophthalmology) and Pedro Gonzalez (retired, Ophtalmology)         

Current medical treatments for glaucoma rely on regular self-administration of eye drops, with patients requiring lifetime treatment even after surgery, and vision loss often persists despite treatment. Using gene therapy, this project aims to establish a safe and effective method to deliver therapeutic materials directly to the eye to treat and control intraocular pressure in glaucoma.

 ClaymoreBio LLC: A novel paradigm for antimicrobial and antiviral therapy

Timothy Haystead (Pharmacology & Cancer Biology)

This team has developed a unique drug discovery platform, allowing pathogenic bacteria, parasites, or viruses to be selectively targeted and destroyed. This engineered platform uses “Berserker molecules” to target a variety of disease-causing pathogens and induce cellular damage. The platform could provide new and effective treatments against some antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses for which there are no vaccines, such as HIV.

DunedinPoAm4x: Developing a saliva test for how fast a person is aging

Terrie Moffit, Avshalom Caspi, David Corcoran, Karen Sugden, and Benjamin Williams (Psychology & Neuroscience)

Knowing how quickly a person’s body is aging is useful not only for basic research on aging, but also for testing whether an intervention has slowed a person’s pace of aging. This project will validate and export a novel tool to measure a person’s pace of whole-body aging: DunedinPoAm4x. This team has already developed and licensed this measure in blood; validating a new version that uses saliva samples will allow for expanded market size with direct-to-consumer marketing for customers wishing to enhance and extend their health.

J2AI: Deep learning image analysis to aid in preoperative prediction of final total joint arthroplasty components

Jay Levin, Joshua Helmkamp, Michael Gao, Ouwen Huang, William Jiranek, and Thorsten Seyler (Orthopaedics)

With a deep learning algorithm that analyzes preoperative radiographs and demographics, final implant component size can be automatically predicted in patients undergoing total hip and total knee arthroplasty. This technology has the potential to assist preoperative planning which can improve optimal implant sizing, decrease intraoperative complications, and reduce operative time while also maximizing operating room efficiency.

Virtual environments for fencing training and education programs

Christophe Duclos (Athletics) and Pierre-Olivier Bontems (Global Fencing Masters)

Building upon Duclos’ pioneering training and education program for the fencing community, this project will use 3D motion capture to develop proprietary extended reality (XR) fencing software to improve learning and teaching experiences and to optimize skills acquisition. This tool will be used by fencers and others eager to learn more about the sport, and eventually also by fencing coaches, leading to continuing education and official certification with the US Fencing Association.

Fueling Translation & Commercialization

Support from the Fund has proven critical for previous awardees who have used the funding for purposes including prototyping, business development, market research, and human resources at the pivotal early stages of their projects.

“This award is crucial to advancing the development of our app because it will allow us to collect critical feedback from users—patients and clinicians,” said Theresa Coles. “With the funds from this award, we plan to conduct a qualitative study to explore functionality expectations for use in clinical care. Results from this study will direct our next steps to refining the app.”

While the Fund supports projects in the early stage of translation, some awardees are extending work they have been doing for years or even decades.

“Our team has been tracking 1000 people born in one city for five decades now, so this project has a long history!” said Terrie Moffitt of her work with DunedinPoAm4x, which determines how quickly someone is aging. “So far it’s a blood test, but this award will allow us to develop a saliva version, and that will potentially open the direct-to-consumer market. Test your aging, join a gym, start a diet, improve your sleep, and test again to see if you have slowed your aging.”

Over the summer, OTC will review current and newly planned translational resources, including the Incubation Fund, in order to clarify and coordinate the range of resources available to Duke innovators.

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