Mercedes Rincon, Ph.D.
With proposals ranging from low-cost ground-penetrating radar to a lung sealant derived from seaweed, six research teams from the University of Vermont pitched their ideas to a panel of experts at the first university-wide SPARK-VT session in June 2015, all hoping to receive a seed grant to help move their innovative work one step closer to the marketplace.
Launched in 2013 by the Department of Medicine, SPARK-VT aims to support researchers as they navigate the tricky terrain between developing an idea for a new device or therapy and making it a reality. Its premise hinges on feedback from outside of the university: A panel of 12 leaders from biotech, pharmaceutical, business, engineering, finance, and legal fields are invited to listen to presentations from top researchers. Panel members ask questions, challenge presenters on the details of their plans and ultimately offer suggestions for next steps. All participants get tips and suggestions, but the winners receive seed funding from UVM’s Office of the Vice President for Research.
SPARK is part of a global initiative. Professor of Medicine Mercedes Rincon, Ph.D., represented the UVM SPARK-VT program at the first SPARK International Conference in Taipei, Taiwan, in August of 2015. She was invited to give a talk along with seven other representatives from SPARK programs around the world, with a goal to share information and create a global SPARK program that supports researchers as they move their work from bench to bedside.
This year, after two successful years at the College of Medicine, UVM’s Provost and Office of the Vice-President for Research broadened the program’s reach, resulting in 13 teams from a variety of UVM colleges submitting proposals. After a selection process, the six teams invited to present this year included faculty from the UVM College of Medicine, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Among the four successful proposals were two initiatives involving College of Medicine faculty:
An innovative easy-to-use, non-toxic, lung sealant patch/band-aid that could be used for lung surgeries or other emergency sealant needs developed by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Rachael Oldinski, Ph.D., and Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D. SPARKVT funds will aid the team in testing the long-term durability and reliability of the innovative alginate material in animal models, before later moving on to humans.
A proposal by Jon Ramsey, Ph.D., a research associate in the Department of Biochemistry, Professor of Medicine Claire Verschraegen, M.D., and Professor Emeritus of Chemistry William Geiger, Ph.D., regarding a new family of compounds called cymanquines that disrupt autophagy, a process cancer cells use to develop drug resistance. The SPARK-VT funds will be used to test a cymanquine compound in animal models of metastatic melanoma, as well as in other cancers.
Learn more about SPARK-VT