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

Acorn Innovation Fund Aids in Commercializing Scientific Breakthroughs Across the Commonwealth

BOSTON (January 19, 2022)—The Commonwealth’s strategic venture capital team, MassVentures, announces today the award of $195,000 in seed funding to Massachusetts research institutions to help them bring new technologies closer to market.

Twelve grants of $16,250 each were awarded to faculty researchers from Boston VA Healthcare, Boston University; Northeastern University; MIT; the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell; Tufts University and Western New England University to assist them in testing the viability of their technologies and potentially bringing their research to market.

The Acorn Awards are funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and overseen by MassVentures. “These awards help bring promising research to market for the benefit of the Commonwealth, which is central to our economic development mission,” said UMass System Chancellor for Academic Programs & Senior Vice President for Economic Development, Katherine Newman. “We are thankful to the Legislature for establishing the Commonwealth’s  Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund, which makes these grants available.”

Selected from a field of 37 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. The majority of projects selected are life science or medical innovations and span from novel therapeutics to treat lung cancer, to AI applications that facilitate outpatient rehabilitation via telemedicine, to modular bioreactors that allow for distributed and affordable production of medications.

Several projects were also chosen that focus on novel surveillance technology, such as for remote monitoring of civil infrastructure integrity (roads and bridges) and real-time surveillance of roadways for traffic incidents.

 “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.

 “Tufts University’s faculty and researchers are constantly innovating throughout the research enterprise, and MassVentures’ support helps our innovations move one step closer to the marketplace to benefit society” said Tufts University’s Provost Dr. Caroline Genco.

Recipients of the MassVentures Acorn Innovation Fund awards are as follows:

Chengbo Ai, PhD and Qing Hou, University of Massachusetts Amherst: “Low-Cost Crowdsourcing-Based Infrastructure Mapping for Pedestrian Accessibility”

Grantees are developing and validating an efficient and cost-effective pedestrian infrastructure inventory method, using low-cost LiDAR sensors, also known as 3D scanning. The technology would enable transportation agencies to maintain pedestrian walkways in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in a timely and comprehensive manner. If proven feasible, the principal investigator will further integrate the low-cost LiDAR sensors into motorized wheelchairs to achieve a fully automated, crowdsourced inventory of pedestrian infrastructure.

Mark Grinstaff, PhD, Boston University and Yolonda Colson, MD, Phd, Mass General Hospital:  “Novel Antibody-Drug Conjugates for Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment”

Grantees are developing a novel, emerging class of anti-cancer therapeutics, called antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 85 percent of lung cancer and has low 5-year survival rates. ADCs are designed to kill tumor cells with minimal effect on healthy tissue. While ten ADCs have been approved for treatment of other cancers, none have yet been approved for lung cancer.

Dr. Raymond Fu, Northeastern University: “Pathfind: AI Driven Remote Motion Tracking by Light-Weight Deep Learning”

This award-winning, artificial intelligence framework was developed to facilitate and improve outpatient rehabilitation via telemedicine. It uses novel light weight, deep learning techniques to quantitatively sense, analyze, understand, and modulate human behaviors through low-cost and portable devices including smartphones.  The framework enables human pose tracking, behavioral recognition, and motion capturing and runs on platforms constrained by limited hardware. Acorn funds will help the researchers commercialize their technology.

 Carlos Gradil, PhD, MSc, LMV, DAC, University of Massachusetts Amherst: “Revolutionary Contraceptive Intrauterine Device for Women”

Grantees are developing a ‘frameless’ long-acting contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) composed of three independent elliptically shaped rods. This device will offer the same efficacy as current IUDs, but with greater safety and lower risk of pain, expulsion and perforation, and it will not require strings. The researchers launched a women’s healthcare company, 3Daughters, to commercialize the IUD and will use Acorn funds to hone the prototype design and development, and develop a clinical trial strategy.

Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, PhD and Jose Gomez-Marquez, PhD, University of Massachusetts Boston: " Paper Powered Pharmaceutical Manufacturing"

Grantees created a modular biochemical manufacturing platform that enables distributed, affordable, and scalable production of medications. The innovation includes a membrane-to-membrane continuous flow reactor system that can operate without pumps or advanced instrumentation and uses minimal power. This “paper reaction vessel” system can be reconfigured to store, transport, and mix reagents on-demand. It requires far less capital investment and complex instrumentation than both centralized pharmaceutical manufacturing and alternative methods, such as those using robotics or small-scale reactors.

June Horowitz, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth: “Momma Connect mHealth Application for Women with Postpartum Depression and their Infants”

Researchers are developing and evaluating the feasibility of MommaConnect, a mobile health (mHealth) application, to reduce postpartum depression (PPD) and improve mother-infant interaction. An accessible, convenient, cost-effective mHealth app for clinicians and women with PPD can bridge the current gap between PPD screening and availability of customized perinatal mental health care.

Devina Jaiswal, PhD, Western New England University: “Designing and Testing of Add-on Features for Do-it-Yourself Bioreactor: A Product-Market Fit Approach”

Researchers are developing a customizable bioreactor that allows for dynamic tissue culture of tissue-engineered products as alternatives to allografts and autografts (bone tissue derived from humans). The device will accommodate multiple test conditions and samples to yield statistically sound data for a variety of tissues, a critical feature not currently available in commercial bioreactors.  The device is geared for researchers in biomedical engineering and science who are designing and developing tissue-engineered products or studying disease, repair, and regeneration of soft tissues.

 Karen Panetta, PhD, Tessera Intelligence, Tufts University: “Tessera Intelligence-Traffic Incident Detection and Analysis System”

Tessera Intelligence is an artificial intelligence (AI) based framework that automatically triages and alerts traffic control agents in real time for rapid intervention. The system leverages available large-scale camera infrastructures to detect highway and roads incidents (e.g., wrong-way driving, traffic congestion, bicyclists or pedestrians in tunnels, and crashes) while providing a visual intelligence solution to remove weather and environmental anomalies that can interfere with detection, such as rain, haze, snow, and smoke. Its potential benefits include reduced time for first responder arrival, increased survival rates, and the cost-effective deployment of incident response resources. 

Ravi Rasalingam, MD, TeamOSA/Boston Veterans Affairs Healthcare and Ellen Roche, PhD, MIT: “A Novel Device to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea”

The team is developing a custom fit mouthguard to prevent airway obstructions by transmitting low level suction that stabilizes the throat muscles of obstructive sleep apnea patients. It is created from a CAD modified digital scan of the mouth that is then 3D printed in biocompatible resins. It connects to a miniature suction pump.

 Drs. Sloan Siegrist and Emily Mezler, Latde Diagnostics/University of Massachusetts Amherst: “A Novel Tool to Detect Bacterial Growth and Antibiotic Susceptibility”

Latde Diagnostics is developing a platform technology using universal cell surface labelling to rapidly detect bacterial growth and antibiotic susceptibility. The technology will shorten the time to an antibiotic susceptibility profile at relatively low cost, saving lives and reducing costs in clinical and industrial settings. The first application is detection and antibiotic susceptibility profiling of bloodstream bacterial infections, but it could be readily adapted to speed pathogen and contaminant detection in a variety of settings such as food and biomedical manufacturing facilities.

John Wixted, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “Metal Injection Molded External Fixators”

Grantees developed a low-cost external fixator, which is a widely used technology for fracture repair, especially of the knee or ankle. External fixators hold and prevent a broken bone from moving around, for a period of days to weeks. The grantees developed a fixator from metal injection molded parts which will save hospitals two-thirds of the costs of temporary external fixation. Acorn funds will help researchers mechanically test their device using ASTM International standards.

Tzuyang Yu, PhD, University of Massachusetts Lowell: “Compact Portable Microwave Sensor for Inspecting Critical Civil Infrastructure”

Grantee is developing a versatile, efficient, and cost-effective microwave remote sensing technology for inspecting the subsurface conditions of critical civil infrastructure (e.g., concrete buildings, bridges, tunnels, roadways, airports) and energy infrastructure (e.g., wind turbine blades).  The technology is compact and lightweight and can be mounted on a drone. It can monitor concrete cover (protecting layer for steel reinforcing bars and tendons) and locate steel rebars from the surface of bridges. It allows for prognostic inspection and early repair to avoid expensive repair and/or sudden failures of structures from happening.

Contact: Vinit Nijhawan, Managing Director, 978-590-0400





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