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Prof. Robert Dunn receives Proof of Concept Fund Award

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

LAWRENCE — Demonstrating that a laboratory concept will work in practice is one key to moving a research discovery into the marketplace. The University of Kansas supports discovery and innovation in multiple ways, including the granting of Proof of Concept (POC) Fund awards for inventions that are near the commercialization stage.

This year, KU has awarded five such awards of up to $40,000 each. This is the fourth year for the program, which is administered by KU Innovation and Collaboration, the university’s bicampus technology commercialization office.  Awards support technology development efforts for six months in any area of innovation and technology. Funded projects require that KU has filed a provisional patent and that a path to commercialization of a product or method has been identified.

“Our main goal is always to translate the discoveries of KU researchers to the market for the benefit of society,” said Julie Nagel, associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship. “The Proof of Concept Fund provides KU inventors with resources to develop their technologies further – taking it one step closer to the market.”

The five KU technologies and inventors receiving awards for 2016-17:

“Antigen-drug conjugates as antigen-specific immunotherapy”
Cory Berkland, distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and chemical and petroleum engineering

  • This technology addresses a critical need to develop a more targeted immunotherapy to avoid unwanted immunosuppression and side effects. Antigen-drug conjugates use antigen epitopes specific to the autoimmune disease as agents to deliver drugs to autoreactive B cells. The expected result is an enhanced safety profile, with fewer undesired side effects and potentially greater effectiveness.

“Self-De-Icing LED Signals”
Hongyi Cai, assistant professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering

  • The project will further develop a new type of self-de-icing LED signal lights for road intersections. In wintery conditions, snow and ice can accumulate on the cool traffic light lens. The self-de-icing LED signal light adopts a patent-pending heated lens lighting arrangement to harvest both light and the heat generated by the LED fixture.  This could result in significant savings for towns and cities.

“Scanning Resonator Microscopy”
Robert Dunn, professor of chemistry

  • Atomic force microscopy [AFM] is a widely used analytical tool in many different industries, but it has limitations. There is a need to combine optical contrast with AFM for the life science and materials analysis fields. This project will develop scanning resonator microscopy [SRM] combining optical contrast with AFM. SRM uses a small optical resonator, which is integrated at the end of a conventional AFM tip enabling high-resolution imaging. The new instrument will be used for biosensing of molecules binding to cell receptors in label free assays.

“T-Blocks”
A.J. Mellott, research assistant professor of plastic surgery, KU Medical Center

  • A method has been developed to grow stem cells indefinitely, without losing key stem cell characteristics.  The project will further development of three-dimensional block prototypes for growing stem cells.  The three-dimensional blocks are simple to use, can use different materials, and they promise to reduce cost and time.

“The Development of a Broadly Protective Subunit Vaccine against Salmonella enterica”
Wendy Picking, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry

  • The project will continue development of protective subunit vaccines against Salmonella enterica, a gastrointestinal pathogen. This defined vaccine is different from what is available on the market. It could offer protection against a vast majority of serotypes of the pathogen. The potential benefit is more than $4 billion in health care costs and the elimination of the use of antibiotics against this pathogen.

The Proof of Concept Fund grant program is a competitive program. This year, 15 proposals were submitted by researchers in 12 different KU departments across three KU campuses.


Chemistry department receives more than $6 million in research grants annually
14 chemistry faculty members have NSF CAREER Awards
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