Ohio Third Frontier Commission approves funding for four early-stage technology companies being developed at CWRU

Four early-stage tech companies at Case Western Reserve University each will receive $50,000 from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission to further develop and bring their products to the marketplace.

The Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund (TVSF), which provides grants to advance technology developed by Ohio institutions of higher education and other nonprofit research institutions, last week approved seven of 19 proposals statewide for Phase I funding.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve submitted four of the seven proposals.

“Three of the four funded programs have also previously received funding from the Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership,” said Michael Haag, executive director of the university’s Technology Transfer Office. “I am excited to see us further build on the partnership we have established with the Case-Coulter program. The combination of these two sets of funds will allow for our faculty to make significant advances in the translation and commercialization of their projects.”

The four projects approved for state funding are:

  • HemeChip, a device to provide rapid diagnosis of sickle cell disease (SCD) and other disorders in newborns
    Project leader: Umut Gurkan, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering

SCD is a genetic disorder that’s treatable, especially when caught early. But existing tests for the disease take too long (two to six weeks for results) and cost too much (at least $10). Without detection and treatment, at least half of the 400,000 infants born yearly with SCD in sub-Saharan Africa will die.

HemeChip is a diagnostic device that uses electrophoresis of red blood cells to identify SCD and other blood disorders. The device integrates with a smartphone app to produce faster, less expensive and more convenient results. A small amount of blood from a finger-stick (or heel-stick in the case of newborns) is applied at one end of a strip of absorbent and moistened paper, and an electric field applied. The devices can be provided for about $2.

The new round of funding will allow Gurkan and his team to refine the design, manufacture a pilot run of 5,000 units in Ohio and field-test the device in Ghana.

  • A removable device that uses electrical currents for pain control
    Project leader: Niloy Bhadra, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

While electrical signals have been used to block nerves for 30 years, interest in the technology for pain relief after surgery has grown enormously in recent years because of advances in electronics and the advantages over using drugs.

Bhadra and his associates are developing a nerve-blocking device that uses charge-balanced direct current (CBDC) with an external power source, which requires electrodes to conduct power from the external source to the site of the nerve. They see the technology as especially useful for knee- and hip-replacement patients.

The funding will be used to further develop electrodes that are expected to be part of the device and to learn whether the approach is safe for repeated delivery to the nerve for up to a few weeks after surgery.

  • SynthoPlate, synthetic platelets to reduce traumatic bleeding
    Project leader: Anirban Sen Gupta, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

Blood and blood products from donors have limitations—inadequate supply, pathogenic or foreign contaminants, special storage requirements, limited shelf life and high collection costs.

But commercial and military demand for an artificial blood is high.

Sen Gupta is leading the development of artificial blood platelets, which, if proven effective, could provide in mass amounts the principal element that forms clots to stop the flow of blood at the site of an injury.

Devising artificial platelets is a challenge because it requires a product that only forms a clot at the site of an injury, and not somewhere else as well. His lab has proven the concept effective in a rodent model. The new funding will allow for scale-up, sterilization, stability analysis and larger animal studies for effectiveness and safety.

  • ŸSelf-powering wireless sensors that could turn conventional buildings into energy efficient “smart” buildings
    Project leader: Philip Feng, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science

About 40 percent of the nation’s energy consumption is generated in buildings. Feng and his team are developing a low-cost, self-powering wireless sensor system that can be easily integrated with a “smart” HVAC system. The principals estimate the system could cut energy use in buildings by nearly a third.

The concept consists of a small circuit board with energy harvesting components, supercapacitors for energy storage, temperature, pressure and humidity sensors along with a controller chip and transmitter.

Funding will be used to develop more advanced prototypes and to test the concept in a building energy management system.

The Ohio Third Frontier Program aims to encourage private investment that accelerates the growth of Ohio-based technology companies and creates jobs.