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Research

Intellectual Property

Some of the most dramatic innovations in patient care have come through the development of intellectual property. WPAHS clinicians and scientists are continually generating ideas that have the potential to improve patient care. The ASRI Office of Technology Transfer has developed processes to evaluate, protect and commercialize those ideas. The ASRI Strategic Advisory Committee assesses all incoming invention disclosures for potential commercialization. Thereafter, the Office of Technology Transfer works with inventor(s) to procure appropriate copyright, trademark or patent protection and find the appropriate mechanisms to develop, test and market the innovation. Following commercial release, revenues from these inventions are equally shared by ASRI and the inventor(s). Some of our current projects in the technology transfer pipeline are listed below.

Carmell Therapeutics

ASRI is working with Carmell Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based biotechnology company, to develop a line of autologous plastics by combining polymers with blood. Taking proteins that are native in the human body and designed by nature in the right proportion to heal wounds, researchers have created a “plastic blood clot” that helps to heal soft tissue and bone with no undue inflammatory or foreign body reactions. Platelet-rich blood plasma is freeze dried, then mixed with a small amount of glycerin and then processed with heat and pressure. During this process, proteins are aligned in a chain — similar to a polymer chain — and formed into an extremely stable material. The resulting plastics have properties ranging from the texture of flexible rubber to hard bone, and can be cut and molded into different shapes. Depending on the needs of the patient, these materials can be matched to soft tissue or bone. These biologically active plastics are being tested on injured tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Eventually, this technology could also be used by burn, cardiology, neurosurgery, dental and maxillofacial specialists to treat their patients.

Hand Hygiene

In an effort to reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections, ASRI researchers are developing a device that measures how well doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are following proper hand washing protocols. A “Reader” — a dispensing unit with a LCD readout — measures the number of rooms a hospital staff person has visited, the number of dispensing events that were completed, and the overall compliance rate, based on a 2 to 1 ratio (one room entry and two hand hygiene events). A room trigger that is hung from the wall of a patient room receives electronic triggers from dispensing units and& records data. Doctors, nurses and other staff wear the Reader like a pedometer and it displays results in real time. In addition, data will be electronically gathered from each device every week and results will be published anonymously in a report. Staff then have an opportunity to see how they compare to their colleagues — and make the necessary adjustments to improve their own compliance scores.

Novaflux

ASRI researchers were the first to discover that biofilms populate the plastic ear tubes used to treat children who have otitis media, or chronic inner ear disease. That can cause an even more serious infection termed otorrhea. To address this problem, ASRI has teamed up with Novaflux Technologies, a company renowned for its medical devices and pharmaceutical products, to develop an ear tube that is resistant to bacterial biofilms. Currently, this team of researchers is testing various combinations of antibacterials that have been molded into the plastic tubing. These drug-containing tubes will be tested in an animal model of middle-ear disease to test their efficacy compared to untreated tubes. If this technology proves to be successful in reducing otorrhea, it could eventually be integrated into catheters — implantable devices that are also known to harbor biofilms and cause serious hospital-acquired infections.

Disc Replacement

Traditionally, patients who suffer from a herniated disc have to undergo a lengthy, complicated procedure that fuses vertebral bodies together with a rigid titanium or steel rod. This procedure can later cause complications, such as disc degeneration, disc herniation and spinal canal stenosis. Patients may soon have a more viable surgical option. ASRI, in partnership with Applied Spine, is testing a pedicle-based motion preserving rod to stabilize the pathologic functional spinal unit. This potentially reduces undesirable loads or non-physiologic motion in adjacent parts of the spine. Over time, patients will have less pain and enjoy greater mobility, besides experiencing fewer complications. These researchers are also testing biologic implants that could replace disc tissue that is lost because of herniation or surgery.

Frac Water

With estimated reserves of over 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Marcellus Shale has the potential to fulfill America’s natural gas needs for years to come. One of the major challenges in manufacturing this natural resource is disposing of millions of gallons of contaminated waste water used in the shale fracturing process. Researchers from ASRI are developing and commercializing a customized suite of biofilm-based bioremediation technologies that will not only decontaminate the waste water, but also make it available for recycling. These bioremediation technologies could also be applied to acid rock drainage (ARD) — providing an on-site biofilm-based bioremediation system to remove heavy metals from frac water, as well as using biofilms to remediate ARD.

Omnimmune

Chemotherapy is a powerful form of treatment for cancer but it does not take into account the uniqueness of an individual’s type of cancer. Traditionally, patients with similar types — and similar stages — of cancer are treated in a similar way. Many patients subsequently suffer devastating chemotherapy-associated side effects and fail this first-line therapy. To address this problem, ASRI is working with Omnimmune to develop a potential pipeline of immunotherapeutic drug candidates (monoclonal antibodies) and patientspecific immuno-genomic diagnostics. An improved approach to treatment includes, first, the determination of tumor markers that are associated with staging and metastatic potential for each patient and, secondly, select immunotherapies that target the appropriate markers. It is proposed that targeted personalized immunotherapy could eventually become the first line of treatment for many cancer patients.

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