UW News

August 6, 2009

UW researchers awarded Life Sciences Discovery grants

Two UW research teams have won the Life Sciences Discovery Fund’s inaugural winter commercialization grant competition to support commercial translation of health-related technologies.

One team, led by Philip Fleckman, UW professor of medicine in the Division of Dermatology, will assess the ability of a novel material to prevent infections associated with catheter use. The second team, headed by Kenneth A. Schenkman, UW associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Critical Care Medicine, will conduct a clinical study of a new device for the early detection of shock. Each will receive $150,000 in funding.

Commercialization grants are designed to facilitate the transition of promising ideas or technologies from Washington’s nonprofit research sector into marketable products and services that can improve health, foster economic growth and promote life sciences competitiveness in the state. The grants support proof-of-concept experiments and prototype development activities that are expected to lower the risk of commercialization and help new technologies cross that stage of the commercialization pathway where development funding is particularly scarce.

“This was our first commercialization grants competition and we were uncertain about what to expect with regard to proposal numbers and the funding success rate. It is with great pleasure then that we make these awards to two University of Washington teams, as the technologies they’re developing offer both the potential for significant improvement in how patients are cared for and an opportunity to advance Washington’s life sciences industry,” said Executive Director Lee Huntsman.

Fleckman will use the funding to test the ability of a percutaneous catheter to resist infection. Skin-penetrating devices such as vascular and dialysis catheters, glucose monitors, and artificial prostheses are essential for medical care. However, the use of these critical devices is associated with high risk of infection leading to significant morbidity and mortality. The proposed work is a new approach that uses material into which the skin can heal, thus providing a barrier to microbial attachment and infection. The proposed work will test whether cutaneous integration into biomaterial inserted into the skin will resist bacterial challenge by Staphylococcus aureus, an organism that commonly infects percutaneous devices. The commercialization plan continues a fruitful collaboration with Healionics, a successful start-up biotech company that has licensed the technology from the UW.

Schenkman will test a new instrument for the diagnosis and monitoring of shock. Shock is a life-threatening medical condition that results in insufficient oxygen reaching body tissues. Early and definitive diagnosis of shock is difficult using current methods. As a result, many cases are missed or not picked up until the critical later stages when organ failure and death may occur. The investigators have developed a novel noninvasive clinical monitor that they believe will fundamentally improve the early detection and continuous monitoring of shock. A proof-of-concept study will be performed on trauma patients upon admission to the emergency department and within the first hours of resuscitation in the intensive care unit. The investigators hope to demonstrate that their new monitor can identify the severity of shock and serve as a sensitive indicator of the adequacy of resuscitation. The commercialization plan for the shock monitor includes the formation of a new start-up company.

Awards for the summer competition are expected to be announced in mid-December 2009.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a Washington state agency established in May 2005, makes grant investments in innovative life sciences research to benefit Washington and its citizens.