MassVentures Announces $195,000 in Seed Funding for 6 Faculty Research Projects

Acorn Innovation Awards Help Massachusetts Research Institutions Commercialize Scientific Breakthroughs

BOSTON (January 3, 2024)—The Commonwealth’s strategic venture capital team, MassVentures, announces today the recipients of its fall 2023 Acorn Innovation Award, a grant program that helps Massachusetts research institutions bring new technologies closer to market. 

Six grants of $32,500 each, for a total of $195,000, were awarded to faculty researchers from UMass Chan Medical School; the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Dartmouth; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Tufts University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to assist them in testing the viability of their technologies and potentially bringing their research to market.

The Acorn Awards are funded by the Legislature, through the Commonwealth’s Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund, and overseen by MassVentures. 

Selected from a field of 33 applicants, the recipients were chosen for their project’s technical merit, commercial viability, project plan and strength of team, according to Vinit Nijhawan, Managing Director of MassVentures. Three projects selected are diagnostics or medical devices such as a real-time artificial intelligence (AI) system to improve diagnostic accuracy of cholangiocarcinoma, a biomaterial innovation to build better biopolymer implants and building patient-specific intracardiac implants directly inside the human body for optimal stroke prevention. 

“The strength of the selected projects and diversity of academic researchers demonstrates that Massachusetts leads the nation in translating basic research to the market,” Nijhawan said.

The other three projects selected are advanced materials or other physical sciences based such as Mushroom-Inspired Vanadium Extraction, Nevermore PFAS: On-demand Capture, Degradation and Release of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, and creating a novel topical-based tick attachment cement crosslinking inhibitor to prevent the spread of tick-borne disease.

“The translation of the insights and discoveries of our faculty to patient benefiting products is a high priority for Mass General Brigham. We look forward to actively participating in MassVentures’s expanded ACORN Innovation Awards program to support the economic growth of the Commonwealth, the health needs of its citizens and its unrivaled innovation community. ACORN awards will help to ensure patients gain access to the best novel therapies, surgical procedures, and diagnostics,” said Mass General Brigham Chief Innovation Officer Chris Coburn.

Recipients of MassVentures’ Fall 2023 Acorn Innovation Fund awards are as follows:

Neil Marya, MD; Navine Nasser-Ghodsi, MD; UMass Chan Medical School

Development of a real-time artificial intelligence (AI) system to improve diagnostic accuracy of cholangiocarcinoma. Current tools for the diagnosis of bile duct cancer have low sensitivity and accuracy. These researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system to analyze videos of the bile ducts that outperforms standard diagnostic modalities. They will perform a prospective clinical trial evaluating the performance of this real time AI technology.


Ertan Agar, PhD, University of Massachusetts Lowell; Patrick Cappillino, PhD, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Mushroom-Inspired Vanadium Extraction. The novel vanadium chelator at the heart of the technology developed by these researchers binds to and is more selective for vanadium than any other compound known to date (i.e., 100 trillion times stronger than the best commercial binder). Their value proposition hypothesis is this technology could decrease the carbon intensity of current strategies for vanadium extraction, improve the economics of vanadium extraction and make previously uneconomical vanadium deposits commercially viable.

James Reuther, PhD; University of Massachusetts Lowell

Nevermore PFAS: On-demand Capture, Degradation and Release of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances. The researcher’s product, Nevermore PFAS, implements innovative, porous ion-exchange resins for the rapid, efficient removal of various PFAS derivatives from drinking water. Due to the reactive nature of these resins, the radical-induced degradation of PFAS can be initiated using UV-light or ultrasound while also regenerating the resins for circular PFAS remediation.

Ellen Roche, PhD; Connor Verheyen, Postdoc; Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In vivo additive manufacturing: building patient-specific intracardiac implants directly inside the human body for optimal stroke prevention. These researchers are developing a platform technology that combines the benefits of both minimally-invasive procedures and patient-specific additive manufacturing. With this new approach, they aim to generate personalized intracardiac implants directly at the target tissue site inside of the patient's body, all while avoiding adverse procedural complications and local tissue trauma.

David Kaplan, PhD; Vincent Fitzpatrick, PhD; Tufts University

Redefining Limits for Biomaterial Innovation - Building Better Biopolymer Implants. Many implants fall short of clinical needs due to material and manufacturing limitations. One example is ear tubes, among the most common pediatric implants (650,000 annually). Their innovation overcomes these limits, for the first time, offering biopolymer tubes with unique features like “degradability on demand” and bioactive compound delivery from the devices.


Yuhan Lee, PhD; Joseph Beyene, PhD; Brigham and Women's Hospital

Creating a novel topical-based formulation to prevent the spread of tick-borne disease. These researchers are pioneering a unique strategy to combat the spread of all tick-borne diseases by creating the first topical solution that prevents tick attachment to the skin.


MassVentures is the Commonwealth’s strategic venture capital team. MassVentures finds, funds, and fosters early-stage deep tech that fuels economic growth across the Commonwealth.



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