NJIT inventors, including a growing number of ambitious student entrepreneurs, are beating new paths to the marketplace.
Most recently, Treena Arinzeh, director of NJIT’s Tissue Engineering and Applied Biomaterials Laboratory, won a grant from the University City Science Center in Philadelphia to commercialize technology to reduce the recovery time and cost associated with bone graft procedures.
Arinzeh received $100,000 from the Science Center’s QED Proof-of-Concept Program, which NJIT is matching, to further develop and deploy a bioactive composite matrix she invented to serve as a bone graft substitute. The matrix is designed to work alone or in combination with a patient’s own bone marrow to repair bone defects.
Roughly half of the million orthopedic procedures performed in the U.S. each year for reconstructive surgery, trauma or abnormal skeletal defects include bone grafting. In addition to a limited supply, current bone grafts and graft substitutes can result in poor bone healing and other adverse effects. Arinzeh’s technology is a unique synthetic matrix that can be used as an autograft extender allowing improved cell attachment, bone ingrowth and bone formation.
The QED program, started in 2009 and now in its 10th round of funding, supports novel university technologies with market potential, bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization. Arinzeh and two other awardees were selected in this round from a pool of 54 applicants from 12 academic and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Each team receives $200,000, half of which will be contributed by the Science Center and half by the researchers’ institutions. This is the first QED award for NJIT.
Grant recipients also receive guidance from the Science Center’s team of scientific and business advisers, who assist the inventor on market opportunity and commercialization strategies.
“The QED process has been an invaluable experience,” says Arinzeh. “The most beneficial aspect of the process is working with the business advisers in determining the market opportunity and a strategy toward commercialization. These activities help to define the next steps in developing the technology.”
Arinzeh’s matrix is a fibrous material that contains bioceramics, which aid in accelerating bone repair. It looks like a piece of very thick fabric.
“It's deformable and can be cut with a pair of surgical scissors for ease of insertion into bone defects,” she explains. “The cells attach readily because it has a fiber structure with a high surface area that allows for cells to stretch across and anchor themselves to the material. It also has a high porosity so bone tissue can grow inside and throughout the matrix.”
“NJIT faculty are increasingly focused on finding ways to commercialize their technology, while an expanding number of outside groups are interested in funding their early-stage concepts,” notes Judith Sheft, associate vice president for technology and enterprise development at NJIT’s New Jersey Innovation Institute.
The bone matrix technology was originally developed through funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and then the Coulter Foundation, which funds translational studies and allowed Arinzeh to demonstrate proof of concept that the bone matrix could repair bone defects.
So far, more than 100 teams have participated in the NSF’s I-Corps site program on NJIT’s campus, which offers specialized training and mini-grants of up to $3,000 to teams interested in exploring the commercial viability of their ideas for products and businesses based on their own inventions, University intellectual property or any STEM-related technology. Students are driving a growing number of these teams.
A dozen inventors, including Arinzeh, have gone on to win I-Corps backing, including funds of up to $50,000, at the national level.
In addition to funding three projects, the Science Center provided support to an additional eight early-stage life science and health care technology teams to develop their proof-of-concept plans. They include NJIT’s Eon Soo Lee (below), who is developing a nanotechnology-enhanced biochip that would give doctors and patients in a range of healthcare settings the ability to detect deadly diseases such as ovarian cancer and pneumonia early in their progression. Lee has also secured an NSF I-Corps national grant.
The 11 QED finalists received customized coaching from industry experts, exposure to the investment community and support to develop a commercialization funding roadmap. This support armed the researchers with the knowledge and tools needed to pursue follow-on funding that will help their early-stage projects advance along the commercialization pathway.
“The input from industry advisers for all of these projects, including Professor Lee’s, was tremendously active and helpful,” Sheft notes. “They really dug in, offering advice on details large and small, from market research to suggestions on their presentations.”
“In the nine years since the program launched, QED has awarded over $6 million to 34 projects,” says Wenyong Wang, Ph.D., MBA, the vice president of science and technology at the University City Science Center. “Among these projects, 10 technologies have been licensed and eight companies have been launched, demonstrating the value of the research taking place in academic labs that is too often left without the resources to commercialize.”
New Jersey researchers have also recently won grants from the New Jersey Health Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that supports biomedical research and health-related education programs in New Jersey by making private equity investments in health-related start- up companies in New Jersey headed toward commercialization.
Students play key roles on many of these development teams, including a group (below) developing a reforestation technology.
“We are increasingly linking with NJIT’s Undergraduate Research and Innovation program to ensure students are involved in research and development projects from start to finish,” Sheft adds. “In some cases, they are founding their own companies to commercialize ideas and technology.”