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Grants Made to Commercialize Bone, Cancer Research

Treena Arinzeh

Treena Arinzeh (New Jersey Institute of Technology)

30 January 2018. A program supporting research with commercial potential awarded grants to scientists studying stem cells for bone grafts, treatments for melanoma, and protein therapies for cancer that change gene expression patterns. University City Science Center in Philadelphia announced the awards of $100,000 each yesterday for 3 researchers at institutions in Philadelphia and nearby New Jersey.

University City Science Center promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in science and technology, including support for emerging research with market potential in its QED Proof-of-Concept Program. This program makes awards to life science researchers at Philadelphia-area institutions working on technologies in their early stages, but with good prospects for commercialization. The awards of $100,00 each are then matched by the institutions.

Treena Arinzeh, director of the Tissue Engineering and Applied Biomaterials lab at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, received a QED grant for her work developing a technology for bone grafts that combines composite biomaterials in a matrix scaffold with a person’s own bone marrow stem cells to promote bone healing. In a paper published in December 2017, Arinzeh and colleagues show the fibrous scaffold has an inherent electrical field that stimulates the transformation of stem cells into bone and supporting tissue.

“The cells attach readily,” says Arinzeh in a university statement, “because it has a fiber structure with a high surface area that allows for cells to stretch across and anchor themselves to the material. It also has a high porosity so bone tissue can grow inside and throughout the matrix.”

Maureen Murphy, a geneticist at the Wistar Institute and University of Pennsylvania medical school in Philadelphia, received a QED award for her work with heat shock protein or HSP70 and its role in promoting cancer. Murphy’s lab discovered a compound code-named PET-16 shown to inhibit HSP70 by targeting mitochondria, the energy centers in cancer cells, but not in healthy cells. In tests with mice, PET-16 blocks the spread of melanoma cancer, without toxicity to non-cancerous cells.

Jean-Pierre Issa, director of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology at Temple University medical school, studies epigenetics — changes in inherited gene expression from causes other than genetic codes — to block cancer-causing genes. Issa’s research discovers treatment candidates that change gene expression patterns affecting the spread of cancer. The QED award specifically cited his work with the cyclin-dependent kinase 9 protein, associated with several types of cancer, and compounds that block the protein’s activity.

In addition to the award funds, QED winners and finalists also receive coaching on commercializing their discoveries, as well as an introduction to investors. “The most beneficial aspect of the process,” notes Arinzeh in a University City statement, “is working with the business advisors in determining the market opportunity and a strategy towards commercialization. These activities help to define the next steps in developing the technology.”

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