Photo of student working in a lab.

Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership awards $1 million for promising university-based biomedical engineering technologies

The Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership (CCTRP) announced more than $1 million in funding and support for the 2016 cycle. Four projects were selected for full program funding. Projects range from diagnostic and screening technologies to cancer therapeutics. Six pilot grants also were awarded for earlier-stage projects.

The 10-year-old program, a partnership between Case Western Reserve University and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, invests more than $1 million annually in direct funding and support services to help research teams from Case Western Reserve advance products from the laboratory to the marketplace, where they can be available to improve patient care.

The program has led to 13 startup companies and several other licenses that have already delivered 16 technologies to patients. The Coulter model is often replicated and is in place at many top biomedical engineering schools nationally.

A photo of Robert Kirsch.

“The Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership continues to be a cornerstone of our department, helping to move medical technologies from across the university from research to products, where they can significantly improve the health of our society,” said Robert Kirsch, professor and chairman of the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Funding for full projects can range from $50,000 to $200,000 per year. Smaller pilot grants are available as well. The money goes toward preparing projects for commercialization, such as demonstrating technical feasibility, and gauging their market feasibility and industry interest.

The Case-Coulter oversight committee reviewed 24 proposals during this cycle.

“As a group, the quality of the proposals received continues to improve each year, making the selection decisions more challenging than ever,” said CCTRP Director Stephen Fening. “We had many more proposals that deserved to be included in the program than we were able to accommodate.”

Projects must have the potential to advance from the university within 12 to 30 months, and be co-led by an engineer and a clinician.

The selected technologies and their principal researchers

Plant virus-like particle-based cancer immunotherapy (Nicole Steinmetz, Julian Kim)

The researchers developed an “in situ vaccination” strategy to treat metastatic cancer, using a nanoparticle formed by the protein components of a plant virus. Direct administration of the therapeutic nanoparticle into identified tumors triggers a tumor-specific immune response, eradicating the treated tumor as well as distal metastatic sites. Immune memory protects patients from outgrowth of metastatic disease or recurrence. Support from CTTRP will provide a framework toward translation from preclinical models to clinical evaluation.

Point-of-care device for diagnosis of cystic fibrosis (Miklos Gratzl, James Chmiel, Christine Schmotzer)

Diagnosed in one of every 2,300 live births, cystic fibrosis is the most prevalent genetic disease in the United States, Europe and Australia. The earlier the presence of cystic fibrosis is diagnosed, the better the patient’s quality of life, life expectancy and potential for reduced health-care costs. The proposed technology promises to detect the presence of the disease in newborns at 2 weeks old, which will ensure the best clinical outcomes by starting effective treatment early

Screening system for Barrett’s esophagus (Amitabh Chak, Sanford Markowitz, Joseph Willis)

Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of chronic acid reflux, is diagnosed when patients with heartburn undergo upper endoscopy with biopsy. Endoscopy is expensive, time-consuming and uncomfortable. This novel technology allows caregivers to more regularly follow at-risk patients to either prevent or detect early cancer of the esophagus. The new method uses a laboratory DNA test performed on material obtained from a tethered sampling capsule, which is far less expensive than endoscopy, less invasive and can be performed in minutes.

CorCalDx: dual energy X-ray coronary calcium scoring (David Wilson; Robert Gilkeson)

This software enables fast and high throughput detection of coronary calcium using the commonly ordered dual-energy chest X-ray exams. An excellent biomarker for coronary artery disease, coronary calcium scoring has long been assessed using expensive computed tomography. As the chest X-ray is the most common medical imaging procedure by far, CorCalDx will help radiologists screen for coronary calcium and identify coronary artery disease risk with little or no additional cost or radiation.

About the Partnership

The Translational Research Partnership between Case Western Reserve and the Coulter Foundation fosters collaborations among clinicians and biomedical engineering faculty on translational research projects with the potential to impact patient care.

The partnership has funded more than $6.7 million in Case Western Reserve research projects since 2006, leading to more than $50 million in follow-up investment. The partnership provides $700,000 in funds and more than $300,000 in services for projects annually—a vital step in moving research from lab to real-life applications. Projects are vetted by an external oversight committee of expert advisers from the startup community, biomedical industry and clinicians.

This article was originally published Nov. 8.