Spector, Dostmann, and Spees Among Patent Awardees Honored at Invention to Venture

April 7, 2016 by Jeffrey Wakefield

The University of Vermont honored several faculty members and graduate students responsible for nine patents at the 2016 annual Invention 2 Venture (I2V) conference on April 7. Three faculty members from the College of Medicine were honored for their patents, which were awarded in the year since the last I2V conference was held in April 2015.

From left, UVM V.P. for Research Richard Galbraith, M.D., Ph.D., patent awardee Peter Spector, M.D., professor of medicine, and Provost David Rosowsky, Ph.D., at the Invention to Venture Conference at UVM April 7, 2016. (Photo: COM Design & Photography)

The University of Vermont honored several faculty members and graduate students responsible for nine patents at the 2016 annual Invention 2 Venture (I2V) conference on April 7. Three faculty members from the College of Medicine were honored for their patents, which were awarded in the year since the last I2V conference was held in April 2015.

“We’re thrilled to be honoring the innovative work of our talented faculty and graduate researchers,” said Corine Farewell, director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, which hosts the I2V event. “We want to celebrate their work in its own right and build on their success to encourage others at the university to explore the commercial potential of their research.”

The following faculty and graduate students were honored for patent awards at the the 2016 Invention 2 Venture: 

  • A low-energy process for making “green diesel” biofuel. Alexander Wurthmann, senior lecturer of chemistry; Bryan J. Holmes, graduate of UVM, chemistry Ph.D. The manufacturing process is both energy efficient and scalable. It requires only a room-temperature environment, rather than the high-temperature and pressure environment typical of other bio-fuel manufacture, making large-scale production less expensive and small-scale operations practical. Green diesel, made from feedstocks like algae and soybean oil or waste oil, offers the same high-energy content as petro-diesel and retains its fluid characteristics during cold winter temperatures. Conventional biodiesel contains less energy and becomes viscous and unusable in the cold.
  • A molecule that rescues damaged blood vessels yet preserves healthy ones. Wolfgang Dostmann, professor of pharmacology; Joseph Brayden, professor of pharmacology; Nathan Tykocki, assistant professor of pharmacology; Thomas Moon, former UVM postdoctoral fellow; Jessica Sheehe, Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences graduate student. The discovery of this molecule by a team of College of Medicine researchers serves as a springboard for a new pharmaceutical therapy with fewer side effects for hypertension -- a major risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney disease that effects roughly one in three people in the U.S.
  • A new system formapping the irregular electrical activity in the hearts of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) – the most common heart rhythm disorder.Peter Spector, M.D., professor of medicine. Responsible for 20 percent of strokes, AF results in ineffective pumping action. Spector’s research has yielded the development of an electrode design, signal processing algorithms and a computer system that helps determine the areas in a patient’s cardiac tissue responsible for AF, which helps improve treatment via a process called catheter ablation.
  • A new approach to patient-specific identification of the magnitude and distribution of electrical abnormalities driving atrial fibrillation and a strategy for optimizing interventional treatment based upon these maps. Peter Spector, M.D., professor of medicine. Catheter ablation involves placing wires in the heart through the patient’s veins to apply controlled treatment in the form of radiofrequency energy to the heart, altering how electricity is able to flow. An innovative device, which works in tandem with the computer software developed by Spector, generates a map of a patient’s cardiac tissue, defines the region responsible for the irregularity, applies ablation and assesses success of the therapy.
  •  A cellularcomposition of human epicardial progenitor cells isolated from the cover of the heart that can help improve cardiac repair and function following heart attack.Jeffrey Spees, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine. Epicardial cells are multi-potent cells on the surface of the heart that respond to injury and migrate into the myocardium. They can repair the heart by directly differentiating into vascular cells or fibroblasts, or indirectly, by secreting growth factors and cytokines that promote angiogenesis. Spees and colleagues isolated human epicardial progenitor cells and used the factors they produced to rescue cardiac tissue after heart attack.
  • A method that enables research participants to hear audio stimuli while in a noisy fMRI machineJohn Mantegna, lecturer in music. The method can be implemented in software or hardware. It reads the sound profile of the noise produced by an fMRI, then alters the signal of the sounds researchers want the subject to hear — speech, music, or other auditory stimuli — in a compensatory way so the subject can hear them more clearly.
  • A zero-power sensing technology that could replace wireless sensors that rely on batteries, enabling long-term monitoring. Jeff Frolik, associate professor of electrical engineering. The device, when integrated with a transducer, converts a variable like the structural integrity of a building or the moisture content of an agricultural field into a remotely monitored signal. An external monitoring device, which might be mounted on a drone, for instance, sends a radio signal to one of the device's two antenna. The device doubles the frequency of the received signal and transmits back a signal, via the device's second antenna, that contains the information of the measured parameter. The device is passive and highly sensitive, meaning that it requires no power of its own and can be deeply embedded for long term monitoring of an environment.
  • A method for using ultrasound to kill invasive species carried in the ballast water of commercial ships, the primary way invasives are introduced. Junru Wu, professor of physics. Some 10,000 invasive species, from zebra mussel larvae to purple loosestrife seeds, are carried across the oceans each day in the ballast water of cargo ships, which account for 80 percent of introduction of invasives to coastal communities. In tests of the new method, ultrasound killed up to 97 percent of invasive species in the ballast water. The ultrasound method has advantages over other treatments, like ultraviolet light, which  has a hard time penetrating murky water, or chemical treatments, like chlorine, which have environmental problems.
  • A method for repairing intervertebral discs. James Iatridis, mechanical engineering. A method for repairing a defect in an intervertebral disc annulus by placing a genipin cross-linked fibrin gel at an intervertebral disc annula defect site. (Iatrides did this work while UVM,  and shares the intellectual property with the university. He is now at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

In addition, several UVM College of Medicine faculty and graduate students received awards for licensing their patented inventions to companies, which Farewell described as the "next step in the commercial cascade." Included in this group were:

  • Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., professor of pathology and laboratory science, and Vikas Anathy, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and laboratory science - Celdera Medical
  • Tina Thornton, Ph.D., research associate in medicine - Mitotherapeutix
  • Christopher Jones, Ph.D, assistant professor of surgery, Ted James, M.D., professor of surgery, Asim Zia, Ph.D., associate professor of community development and applied economics, and John Evans, Ph.D., special advisor to the vice president of research - TrUSx