TAG: "Innovation"

8 top trends in health and science in 2015


From hacking the brain to diagnosing diseases through DNA.

With advances in technology and better understanding of people, the health sciences are constantly pushing toward more effective treatments and cures. The question is, where will we see the next breakthroughs?

Experts across UC San Francisco were asked to identify what’s ahead in key areas from basic science to digital health, from aging research to cancer treatments, from approaches in the lab to access at the hospital.

Here are some of the hottest areas in health and science to look out for in 2015:

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Related link:
2014: The year in review at UCSF

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UC names special advisor on innovation, entrepreneurship


Regis Kelly also will continue to direct operations at QB3.

Regis Kelly

The University of California has announced that Regis Kelly began his tenure on Dec. 1 as special advisor on innovation and entrepreneurship to UC President Janet Napolitano.

As special advisor to Napolitano, Kelly will promote and support innovation and entrepreneurship across the UC system, working closely with leaders at the university’s campuses, medical centers and national laboratories. Kelly also will develop external partnerships that drive long-term revenue for the university and maximize the public benefit of UC innovations.

Kelly’s work also will complement UC Ventures, a recently announced $250 million fund that will invest in technologies emerging from the university’s 10 campuses and three national laboratories. UC Ventures uses no state or tuition funds.

“Working throughout the UC system to recognize and nurture innovation is an exciting and ambitious endeavor,” Kelly said. “Entrepreneurship can serve the public interest in many ways. I’m committed to identifying more opportunities to convert UC discoveries into services or products that can benefit California and the world, while creating value and jobs along the way.”

“I am thrilled that Regis is now part of our systemwide efforts to better capture the economic value UC students and faculty create through their pioneering research,” said Napolitano. “The University of California is the best public research university in the world. Now, we aim to maximize the public impact brought about by innovation and entrepreneurship fostered in our classrooms and laboratories.”

Kelly, a professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics and a former executive vice chancellor at UC San Francisco, has served since 2004 as director of QB3, one of the four Gov. Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation created by the University of California. He will continue to direct operations at QB3 while taking on his new position.

Kelly oversaw the 2006 launch of the first technology incubator at UC and the subsequent proliferation of incubator spaces including QB3@953, a San Francisco operation now supporting 45 early-stage life science companies. He also is a general partner in QB3’s venture fund, Mission Bay Capital, for which he receives no compensation.

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Lens-free microscope can detect cancer at cellular level


UCLA researchers develop device that can do the work of pathology lab microscopes.

Tissue sample image created by a new lens-free microscope developed in the UCLA lab of Aydogan Ozcan. (Image by Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA)

By Bill Kisliuk, UCLA

UCLA researchers have developed a lens-free microscope that can be used to detect the presence of cancer or other cell-level abnormalities with the same accuracy as larger and more expensive optical microscopes.

The invention could lead to less expensive and more portable technology for performing common examinations of tissue, blood and other biomedical specimens. It may prove especially useful in remote areas and in cases where large numbers of samples need to be examined quickly.

The microscope is the latest in a series of computational imaging and diagnostic devices developed in the lab of Aydogan Ozcan, the Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor. Ozcan’s lab has previously developed custom-designed smartphone attachments and apps that enable quick analysis of food samples for allergens, water samples for heavy metals and bacteria, cell counts in blood samples, and the use of Google Glass to process the results of medical diagnostic tests.

The latest invention is the first lens-free microscope that can be used for high-throughput 3-D tissue imaging — an important need in the study of disease.

“This is a milestone in the work we’ve been doing,” said Ozcan, who also is the associate director of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. “This is the first time tissue samples have been imaged in 3-D using a lens-free on-chip microscope.”

The research is the cover article today (Dec. 17) in Science Translational Medicine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The device works by using a laser or light-emitting-diode to illuminate a tissue or blood sample that has been placed on a slide and inserted into the device. A sensor array on a microchip — the same type of chip that is used in digital cameras, including cellphone cameras — captures and records the pattern of shadows created by the sample.

The device processes these patterns as a series of holograms, forming 3-D images of the specimen and giving medical personnel a virtual depth-of-field view. An algorithm color codes the reconstructed images, making the contrasts in the samples more apparent than they would be in the holograms and making any abnormalities easier to detect.

Ozcan’s team tested the device using Pap smears that indicated cervical cancer, tissue specimens containing cancerous breast cells, and blood samples containing sickle cell anemia. In a blind test, a board-certified pathologist analyzed sets of specimen images that had been created by the lens-free technology and by conventional microscopes. The pathologist’s diagnoses using the lens-free microscopic images proved accurate 99 percent of the time.

Another benefit of the lens-free device is that it produces images that are several hundred times larger in area, or field of view, than those captured by conventional bright-field optical microscopes, which makes it possible to process specimens more quickly.

“While mobile health care has expanded rapidly with the growth of consumer electronics — cellphones in particular — pathology is still, by and large, constrained to advanced clinical laboratory settings,” Ozcan said. “Accompanied by advances in its graphical user interface, this platform could scale up for use in clinical, biomedical, scientific, educational and citizen-science applications, among others.”

In addition to Ozcan, the principal authors of the research were Alon Greenbaum, a UCLA Engineering graduate student and a research fellow at HHMI, and Yibo Zhang, a UCLA Engineering graduate student. Other authors were UCLA Engineering graduate student Wei Luo, undergraduate researchers Alborz Feizi and Ping-Luen Chung, and Dr. Shivani Kandukuri of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The research was supported by the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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A sense for biosensors


UC Irvine’s Weian Zhao has created a device that improves detection of bacterial, viral invaders in blood samples.

The Integrated Comprehensive Droplet Digital Detection system invented by Weian Zhao of UC Irvine converts blood samples directly into billions of very small droplets. (Photo by Steve Zylius, UC Irvine)

By Tom Vasich, UC Irvine

As a doctoral student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Weian Zhao took part in a Canada-wide research effort to develop bioactive paper that would detect, capture and deactivate waterborne and airborne pathogens.

As part of this project, he helped invent gold nanoparticle-coated paper that could detect common pathogens, such as E. coli, but ultimately, the product didn’t meet his exacting standards of diagnostic speed and sensitivity. With a freshly minted Ph.D. in chemistry, Zhao moved on to a joint postdoctoral fellowship at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, where he dove into stem cell research, his biosensor work seemingly left north of the border.

But the challenge of creating a technology that could rapidly and selectively identify bacterial and viral invaders in blood samples nagged at the young scientist, even as he joined UC Irvine in 2011 as an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences with state-of-the-art lab space in the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

And then he met Enrico Gratton. In his Laboratory for Fluorescence Dynamics, the UCI biomedical engineer and colleagues have been developing imaging tools for biomedical applications. Among them is a three-dimensional particle counter that tags low-concentration fluorescent particles in large volumes of solution within several minutes, which drew Zhao’s attention. He knew he was back in the biosensor game.

Employing this particle counter, Zhao created a bloodstream infection test that speeds up diagnosis times with unprecedented accuracy – allowing physicians to treat patients with potentially deadly ailments more promptly and effectively.

Zhao says that the Integrated Comprehensive Droplet Digital Detection system can, in as little as 90 minutes, detect bacteria in milliliters of blood with single-cell sensitivity; no cell culture is needed. He published his latest results in the November issue of Nature Communications.

“We are extremely excited about this technology because it addresses a long-standing unmet medical need in the field,” says Zhao, who also holds a faculty appointment in biomedical engineering. “As a platform technology, it may have many applications in detecting extremely low-abundance biomarkers in other areas, such as cancers, HIV and, most notably, Ebola.”

Bloodstream infections are a major cause of illness and death. In particular, infections associated with antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are a growing health problem in the U.S. and worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, more than 2 million people a year globally get antibiotic-resistant blood infections, with about 23,000 deaths. The high mortality rate for blood infections is due, in part, to the inability to rapidly diagnose and treat patients in the early stages.

Recent molecular diagnosis methods, including polymerase chain reaction, can reduce the assay time to hours but are often not sensitive enough to detect bacteria that occur at low concentrations in blood, as is common in patients with incipient blood infections.

The Integrated Comprehensive Droplet Digital Detection technology differs from other diagnostic techniques in that it converts blood samples directly into billions of very small droplets. Fluorescent DNA sensor solution infused into the droplets detects those with bacterial markers, lighting them up with an intense fluorescent signal. Zhao says that separating the samples into so many small drops minimizes the interference of other components in blood, making it possible to directly identify target bacteria without the purification typically required in conventional assays.

“The IC 3D instrument is designed to read a large volume in each measurement, to speed up diagnosis,” Gratton says. “Importantly, using this technique, we can detect a positive hit from hundreds of millions of measurement samples with very high confidence.”

But invention was only the first step. Zhao wants to commercialize IC 3D. At UCI, faculty researchers with an entrepreneurial bent can work with the Institute for Innovation, an interdisciplinary and campuswide center focused on integrating research, entrepreneurship and technology to create real-world applications that benefit the public and drive the economy. The Office of Technology Alliances, part of the institute, helped Zhao patent-protect the IC 3D technology and establish a spin-off company, Velox Biosystems, to test and manufacture a commercial IC 3D device.

Currently, Zhao is focusing on applying IC 3D to cancer treatments – an extension of the research he’s been advancing since joining UCI.

Zhao has been developing stem cell messengers that selectively migrate to cancer sites to deliver tumor-fighting drugs or probes for contrast-enhanced medical imaging. This could, potentially, enable the identification of cancer micro-metastases at their early stages and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic treatments for metastatic cancer while mitigating the symptoms associated with systemic chemotherapy.

For this work, Zhao was included in the MIT Technology Review’s 2012 list of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35, and this year he earned a prestigious National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award to further his efforts to create stem cell-based detection methods and treatments for cancer.

He’s also collaborating with Dr. Jason Zell, an assistant professor of medicine and co-leader of the Colon Cancer Disease-Oriented Team at UCI’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, to use IC 3D to identify biomarkers in colon cancers. This could enable oncologists to gauge the effectiveness of treatment during the cancer’s early stages more accurately than with current methods, which Zell says are not reliable.

Zhao is now seeking business partners to accelerate Velox Biosystems’ growth and hopes to conduct clinical studies of IC 3D’s utility in patient diagnosis and treatment.

“That’s what’s so important about this project,” he says. “We’ve created a multi-platform tool that has the potential to work with a variety of infections and diseases. I’m very excited about its future.”

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Organic electronics could lead to cheap, wearable medical sensors


UC Berkeley engineers developing new organic optoelectronic sensor.

UC Berkeley engineers have created a pulse oximeter sensor composed of all-organic optoelectronics that uses red and green light. The red and green organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) are detected by the organic photodiode (OPD). The device measures arterial oxygen saturation and heart rate as accurately as conventional, silicon-based pulse oximeters. (Image by Yasser Khan)

By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley

Future fitness trackers could soon add blood-oxygen levels to the list of vital signs measured with new technology developed by engineers at UC Berkeley.

“There are various pulse oximeters already on the market that measure pulse rate and blood-oxygen saturation levels, but those devices use rigid conventional electronics, and they are usually fixed to the fingers or earlobe,” said Ana Arias, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the UC Berkeley team that is developing a new organic optoelectronic sensor.

By switching from silicon to an organic, or carbon-based, design, the researchers were able to create a device that could ultimately be thin, cheap and flexible enough to be slapped on like a Band-Aid during that jog around the track or hike up the hill.

The engineers put the new prototype up against a conventional pulse oximeter and found that the pulse and oxygen readings were just as accurate.

The research team reported its findings today ( Dec. 10) in the journal Nature Communications.

Giving silicon a run for its money

A conventional pulse oximeter typically uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to send red and infrared light through a fingertip or earlobe. Sensors detect how much light makes it through to the other side. Bright, oxygen-rich blood absorbs more infrared light, while the darker hues of oxygen-poor blood absorb more red light. The ratio of the two wavelengths reveals how much oxygen is in the blood.

For the organic sensors, Arias and her team of graduate students – Claire Lochner, Yasser Khan and Adrien Pierre – used red and green light, which yield comparable differences to red and infrared when it comes to distinguishing high and low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Using a solution-based processing system, the researchers deposited the green and red organic LEDs and the translucent light detectors onto a flexible piece of plastic. By detecting the pattern of fresh arterial blood flow, the device can calculate a pulse.

“We showed that if you take measurements with different wavelengths, it works, and if you use unconventional semiconductors, it works,” said Arias. “Because organic electronics are flexible, they can easily conform to the body.”

Arias added that because the components of conventional oximeters are relatively expensive, health care providers will choose to disinfect them if they become contaminated. In contrast, “organic electronics are cheap enough that they are disposable like a Band-Aid after use,” she said.

The National Science Foundation and Flextech helped support this research.

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UCSF nursing expands palliative care training


Nursing school starts palliative care minor for advanced practice nursing students.

UCSF School of Nursing professor DorAnne Donesky works with a patient, teaching her to exercise safely without overtaxing her lungs. (Photo by Elisabeth Fall)

By Kathleen Masterson, UC San Francisco

People who live with serious chronic illness often bounce in and out of the hospital, struggle to get the treatment they need and overall experience a poor quality of life.

Now, increasing research is supporting what many health care providers have long known: comprehensive palliative care that treats both symptoms and a person’s emotional needs can significantly improve a patient’s daily life – and in many cases prolong life, too.

These known successes are a big part of why the UCSF School of Nursing started a new palliative care minor for advanced practice nursing students.

The recent push also came from both hospitals looking to hire and nursing students who asked for more palliative care training, said DorAnne Donesky, Ph.D., ANP-BC, a nursing professor who spearheaded the creation of the minor with palliative care physician Wendy Anderson, M.S., M.D.

“Employers also came to us saying, ‘We’re hiring lots of palliative care providers and new graduates who are coming to us are not well prepared,’” said Donesky. Hospital hiring teams told Donesky that they would hire nurses specifically trained in palliative care first if they were choosing between multiple job candidates.

Donesky has seen the benefits of palliative care firsthand with her patients who have chronic lung and heart conditions.

She recalls one patient diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and heart failure whose doctors gave her a few months to live. The patient was put on hospice, given medication and nonpharmacologic strategies for symptom control and trained with breathing techniques. With this simple but attentive care, she “graduated” from hospice and a year later she’s medically stable, enjoying her family, home and daily gym exercise.

Meeting a growing need

The UCSF palliative care minor is designed to match the national competencies for palliative care so students can take the certification exam.  The minor includes two base courses and an elective, and Donesky also works with students to get them a clinical placement with a palliative care faculty mentor.  For certification students need 500 hours of practice, which they begin to accumulate during the minor.

Palliative care focuses on treating the whole patient with the goal of improving quality of life by addressing everything from symptoms to emotions to family members’ concerns. Research has shown that palliative care improves patients’ symptoms, including pain and depression. And some data suggest that compared to regular care, it prolongs life.

“People are realizing that symptom management and quality of life are really important, separate aspects of care,” said Donesky.

In addition to offering patients standard medications for pain and symptoms, palliative care nurses also teach patients non-pharmaceutical approaches to managing their own health. Donesky said her patients with lung illnesses benefit from learning simple breathing techniques and incorporating exercise into their daily routines. These successes aren’t only good for the patient, it also helps to avoid unnecessary and costly emergency department visits and lengthy hospital stays. While this coordinated care relies on a team of health care providers, in most cases it’s more efficient and more cost effective.

“Palliative care is a team sport,” said Donesky; the core team typically includes a nurse, a physician, a chaplain and a social worker, but varies depending on a patient’s needs. Together these providers work to give patients back some control over their health by training them with techniques to manage pain and self care.   

Donesky said when people hear palliative care, many think of the dying.  While hospice does provide palliative care for end of life patients, palliative care as a whole is really about creating the best quality of life for patients with acute or chronic illnesses or cancer that can be managed, sometimes for years or decades.

Treating the emotional side, too

Oftentimes a big part of treatment is helping patients cope with the emotional distress that their diagnosis brings up.

“A lot of patients are in distress related to relationships that have not been mended, or thinking about where their place is in the world, will their life have meaning, what will be their legacy after they’re gone. Those more spiritual issues are also addressed in palliative care,” said Donesky.

That’s why a big focus of the UCSF palliative care minor is communication skills, from difficult conversations with patients’ families to addressing a patient’s emotional concerns.

Donesky has an extensive background in navigating these kinds of health care communications, including ongoing training with VitalTalk, a highly respected training program that developed out of NIH-funded research. She’s incorporating these techniques in teaching her students.

“As clinicians, it’s scary to talk about these topics, we might be afraid we’re going to open a can of worms,” said Donesky. “But if instead of resisting, we jump in, and say, ‘I suspect you’re having concern with: fill in the blank.’ Often, it just opens the floodgates, and it doesn’t take that long to solve it.”

Donesky said employers specifically want to hire nurses who have advanced training in managing and negotiating these kinds of conversations.

UCSF nursing master’s student Julia Itsikson agrees.

“I believe communication is a cornerstone of this whole program,” Itsikson said. “This is really the bottom line, how do you approach sensitive topics at critical pivotal moment of somebody’s life — it’s not easy.”

Itsikson was accepted into the palliative care minor, which just began this quarter. In addition to coursework, Itsikson is doing clinical work at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, where there’s an entire unit that focuses on palliative care.

Itsikson said learning firsthand from an experienced nurse has been invaluable: “I watch my preceptor and it just blows me away every time; the words she finds, her mannerism, her tone of voice – all of this is so critical and important.”

Donesky said as the palliative care minor becomes more established, she’d like to create a multidisciplinary continuing education training that would be open to all kinds of health care providers, including nurses, social workers, chaplains, pharmacists, physical therapists and dentists.

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Project uses tech to help boost vaccination rates in India


UC Berkeley students turn to crowdfunding to support further software development.

Emmunify co-founder Anandamoy Sen, now a UC Berkeley alumnus, holds a prototype of the portable record system. The chip, which contains vaccine records, is attached to a cell phone, ready to be synced to a health care worker’s mobile device. (Photo courtesy of Julia Walsh)

By Sarah Yang,  UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley students are creating a new tool that could soon make it far easier for children in developing nations to get life-saving vaccines.

As part of a project called Emmunify, the students simplify medical record-keeping by storing patient vaccination records on a portable chip that can then be accessed by a health care provider without the need for Internet access.

“Electronic health records are not new, but in developed nations, there is more IT infrastructure in place that allows some health providers and patients to have access to medical data,” says project team member Jennifer Sisto, a graduate student in public health. “We wanted something that would be effective in areas with limited healthcare data and IT resources, so we focused on providing crucial information, not setting up an entire electronic health record system.”

Emmunify was the brainchild of three Berkeley MBA students, who entered the project in the campus’s 2012 Hacking Health competition for the most innovative ideas in digital health. The project emerged as the grand prize winner, earning $2,000 in seed money to help build a better prototype and conduct feasibility testing.

With the leadership of faculty adviser Dr. Julia Walsh, adjunct professor of maternal and child health, the team connected with nonprofit health providers in India and began preparing to pilot-test the technology in New Delhi, where under half the children are fully immunized.

Rather than attempt to include a patient’s entire medical history on this chip, the Emmunify team kept the data focused on vaccination history.

“We know that raising vaccination rates among children raises school attendance, improves cognitive abilities, decreases malnutrition and increases earning power as adults,” says Walsh. “This is a simple tool to help get kids out of poverty.”

The Emmunify chip is attached to a user’s cell phone, and data is transferred to the health provider’s phone, tablet or other computer through near-field communication, a feature that is increasingly common in today’s mobile devices. A free app must be downloaded so the device can read the data on the chip. The researchers note that most families have access to at least one cell phone, and that the system is designed to be operable on various platforms.

“In many cases, families have to go to six different places at different times to get vaccinations for their children, and they are expected to keep the records on a form or other piece of paper that easily gets lost,” says Walsh. “This tool solves that problem by keeping the data on a phone and in an easily readable format.”

Emmunify could also be used to help direct resources where they are needed. Communities can track how many vaccines have been delivered and used, and health administrators will know when supplies are low and more vaccines are needed.

Ultimately, the system could help increase vaccination rates by sending patients automated voicemail reminders in their local language to remind them when their next shot is due.

“There is a lot of evidence from epidemiological studies that when it comes to basic healthcare, it’s not the new flashy gizmos that are important,” says Sisto. “We just want something basic that works. The tool can be really simple.”

The current team consists of two Berkeley alumni, including co-founder Anandamoy Sen, and six undergraduate and graduate students from Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the School of Public Health.

Since Emmunify’s debut in 2012, the researchers have won additional funding through other contests, including Big Ideas@Berkeley, which is supported by several campus centers and institutes. This year, Big Ideas partnered with Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, to help raise money for winning projects.

The Emmunify team hopes to raise $25,000 to support further software development and to deploy the technology in New Delhi.

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UCLA-led team wins grant to tackle concussions among football players


New ‘microlattice’ helmet material would reduce head injuries, track collision impacts.

Architected Lattice, a new material designed to replace the foam inside football helmets, absorbs energy from the impact of collisions in order to help prevent concussion and traumatic brain injury.

A team of researchers from UCLA and Architected Materials that is developing breakthrough technology to reduce the number and severity of head injuries to football players today (Nov. 13) was named a winner of the Head Health Challenge II.

The Head Health Challenge is part of the four-year, $60 million Head Health Initiative, which is sponsored by the National Football League, General Electric and Under Armour. It is focused on improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of concussions and traumatic brain injury. Seven winning research teams were selected from among more than 450 Head Health Challenge II entrants from 19 countries.

The award comes with a grant of $500,000 for research, testing and development of the technology in the first year, with the potential for another $1 million in the second year.

The UCLA–Architected Materials group is developing a novel, energy-absorbing microlattice material, Architected Lattice, to improve the performance of football helmets. The material, designed to replace the foam used inside of today’s football helmets, will help prevent concussion and traumatic brain injury by absorbing energy upon impact while limiting peak loads.

Architected Lattice is light and breathable, and can be enhanced with a strain-sensing “smart lattice” to detect and transmit data about the impact of a collision. This data could help engineers and product designers make further improvements in helmet design and performance.

“We are honored to have been selected by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, and excited about the potential impact of developing the next generation of helmet pads with the Architected Lattice,” said Larry Carlson, director of advanced materials at the Institute for Technology Advancement at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We believe that in addition to preventing or reducing injuries from high-impact collisions on the football field, this material can be used in a variety of sports and recreational applications.”

The research team includes material designers from Ventura, California-based Architected Materials, mechanical impact experts from UCLA Engineering, and brain science specialists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Along with Carlson, the research’s principal investigators are Alan Jacobsen, co-founder of Architected Materials, and Dr. Christopher Giza, director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program and a professor of pediatrics and neurosurgery.

“One of the key innovations with our Architected Lattice technology is that it can be manufactured quickly and cost-effectively, which differentiates our technology from traditional 3-D printing techniques,” Jacobsen said.

In preliminary tests, the material has outperformed commonly used vinyl nitrile for reducing transmitted peak force, a key metric for helmet pads.

“In addition to offering the potential to reduce sports concussions, the helmet’s unique material functions as a sensor that monitors impact to the brain,” Giza said. “Collaborative efforts like these powerfully showcase UCLA research teams’ role in developing innovative new ways to benefit public health.”

With more than 500 neuroscientists throughout campus, UCLA is a leader in research to understand the human brain, including efforts to treat, cure and prevent traumatic brain injury and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. The BrainSPORT Program was founded by Giza in 2012 and supported by a $10 million gift in May from philanthropist Steve Tisch.

In this video produced by General Electric, Under Armour and the NFL, researchers display a new helmet liner that absorbs significantly more energy than current materials, better protecting athletes from brain injury.

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Engineers develop prototype of low-cost, disposable lung infection detector


NSF grant supports UC Irvine’s efforts to improve manufacturing process for nanodevices.

Imagine a low-cost, disposable breath analysis device that a person with cystic fibrosis could use at home along with a smartphone to immediately detect a lung infection, much like the device police use to gauge a driver’s blood alcohol level.

Timely knowledge of a lung infection would let people with CF or other inflammatory respiratory conditions seek immediate treatment and thereby prevent life-shortening permanent damage to their already vulnerable airways.

Thanks to a nearly $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, UC Irvine engineers can continue developing this type of nanotechnology device – and potentially many others – using a more wide-scale manufacturing process.

Materials scientist Regina Ragan and electrical engineer Filippo Capolino have created a nano-optical sensor that can detect trace levels of infection in a small sample of breath. They made the sensor in the laboratory but would like to see it become commercially available. In addition to diagnosing medical conditions, the device could be modified to monitor environmental conditions – for instance, identifying harmful airborne agents produced through automotive or chemical industry practices.

Nanotechnologies such as this sensor depend on extremely small, nanometer-scale building blocks. A nanometer is about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Fabricating on this tiny scale poses huge challenges, since most of the current methods that achieve a high level of precision are too costly and slow to be viable for manufacturing.

“With support from the NSF and input from industry, our goal is to help nanoscale manufacturing processes leave the laboratory – where they’ve been confined – and become usable in widespread commercial applications,” said Ragan, associate professor of chemical engineering & materials science and principal investigator on the project.

This grant highlights the strength of our faculty in both nanosciences and advanced manufacturing,” said Gregory Washington, dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. “The Samueli School is poised to move forward as a force in this area.”

Co-principal investigators are Capolino, associate professor of electrical engineering & computer science; Ozdal Boyraz, associate professor of electrical engineering & computer science; and Marc Madou, Chancellor’s Professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering.

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UCLA hosting 24-hour invention competition to meet health care needs


Inventathon encourages teams of young inventors to develop innovative solutions.

A team of UCLA students working on their project during the 2013 Inventathon competition. (Photo by Samantha Le, UCLA)

Just a stone’s throw from Silicon Beach — the epicenter of technology in Los Angeles — the Business of Science Center at UCLA, with support from the Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology and Center for Digital Behavior, is spurring innovation as the organizer of the second-annual Inventathon.

This event is a unique 24-hour competition designed to develop solutions for pressing health care needs using the latest device technology and mobile applications.

Watches that track more than time and augmented reality glasses worn like conventional glasses, but that also house a tiny computer, are just the latest examples of wearable devices. Inventathon is designed to help young inventors harness similar technologies for use in the healthcare field.

Inventathon kicks off Oct. 15 with the announcement of the health care need to be addressed. Teams then have a couple of days to assemble before the actual competition starts on Oct. 17. Once the competition begins the teams will work around the clock to develop and eventually present their ideas to a panel of judges. The product could be a mobile app, conceptual drawing or embedded or wearable device. Mentors from UCLA and industry will be available during the entire process, which is designed to help participants hone their research and entrepreneurial skills.

The 24-hour inventing marathon serves as the concluding event of UCLA Innovation Week, organized by Bruincubate, a collection of 14 different groups at UCLA dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship. Bruincubate is hosted by the UCLA Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research. Innovation Week brings together UCLA’s entrepreneurial organizations to help students, faculty, and staff explore and grow their ideas into tangible products. In addition to the Inventathon, events include talks, a career fair and mixers.

The Inventathon competition will take place at the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute. “This event supports future inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Shyam Natarajan, a Business of Science program director and a Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology researcher, who helped launch the event last year. “We are excited to see raw science talent paired with business and design expertise to develop and jumpstart ideas.”

Medical technology inventors of all levels, from undergraduates and graduate students from UCLA and other universities are welcome. Organizers encourage the teams, consisting of three to five participants, to include a wide range of skills from the medical field, engineering, art, design and business.

During the 24-hour competition, the teams will have access to tools such as 3-D printers, augmented reality glasses that can be used to help design and test applications for wearable devices, and special boards to help make mini computer chips, which are the brains behind the applications.

“Competitions like Inventathon get students to think there are no walls that will inhibit them,” said Roy Doumani, a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and executive director of the Business of Science Center. “The experience is invaluable in developing the skill set needed to succeed in developing and pitching a product. Participants are mentored throughout the competition and we want to thank our mentors for their extremely valuable support and time.”

Additional programs on UCLA’s campus help students even after the competition. The Business of Science Center offers a course called Advancing Bioengineering Innovations designed to teach medical device design and to develop practical solutions for unmet medical needs. The program is a collaboration among the Department of Bioengineering in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

“There is huge potential for the latest remote monitoring applications and devices to support and track health care needs,” said Sean Young, assistant professor of family medicine and executive director of the Center for Digital Behavior at UCLA. The center brings together academic researchers and private sector companies to study how social media and mobile technologies can be used to predict and change behaviors that impact health. “Events like Inventathon are a great resource and learning opportunity for students.”

The second annual Inventathon will start on Wednesday, Oct. 15, with a kickoff event to announce the type of health need to be solved and to start assembling teams. Competition begins at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17 and the competition concludes Saturday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m.

The public is invited to watch the final pitches to the judges and the announcement of the winners, which will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The UCLA Clinical Translational Science Institute is a collaborator on the event. This project received support from the following NIH/NCATS grant to the UCLA Clinical Translational Science Institute: UL1TR000124.

Inventathon sponsors include: Option3 LLC; Cardiovascular Systems; Epson America; SparkFun Electronics; UCLA Blum Center for Poverty and Health in Latin America; KARL STORZ Endoscopy-America; Hitachi Aloka Medical America; UCLA Center for World Health; Lob; California NanoSystems Institute, UCLA AIDS Institute and UCLA Health.

For more information about Inventathon and sponsorship opportunities, please visit www.UCLAideas.com.

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NIH awards high-risk, high-reward research grants


UC researchers receive 17 of 85 awards aimed at innovative approaches to biomed research.

Michi Taga,UC Berkeley

The National Institutes of Health awarded 85 grants under its High Risk-High Reward program, of which 17 will go to University of California researchers. The awards support scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research.

UC researchers received 11 of 50 New Innovator awards, which support projects by early-career biomedical researchers with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of research into new ways to improve human health.

UC scientists also received:

  • One of 10 Pioneer awards for groundbreaking approaches that have the potential to make an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research;
  • Two of eight Transformative Research awards for cross-cutting interdisciplinary approaches that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms; and
  • Three of 17 Early Independence awards that provide an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

“Supporting innovative investigators with the potential to transform scientific fields is a critical element of our mission,”’ said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical and behavioral research areas that involve inherent risk but have the potential to lead to dramatic breakthroughs.”

The total funding for the 85 grants is approximately $141 million.

Weian Zhao, UC Irvine

UC recipients include:

UC Berkeley

  • Nicholas Ingolia (New Innovator)
  • Michi Taga (New Innovator)
  • Roberto Zoncu (New Innovator)

UC Davis

  • Lin Tian (New Innovator)

UC Irvine

  • Weian Zhao (New Innovator)

UCLA

  • Reza Ardehali (New Innovator)
  • Elissa Hallem (New Innovator)
  • Sriram Kosuri (New Innovator)
  • Lili Yang (New Innovator)

UC San Francisco

  • Adam Abate (New Innovator)
  • Robert Judson (Early Independence)
  • Wendell Lim (Transformative Research)
  • Michael McManus (Transformative Research)
  • Michael Rosenblum (New Innovator)
  • Glenn-Milo Santos (Early Independence)

UC Santa Barbara

  • Denise Montell (Pioneer)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  • Amanda Randles (Early Independence)

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UC receives nearly a quarter of NIH brain research grants


14 projects are led by researchers from six UC campuses.

The National Institutes of Health awarded UC researchers nearly a quarter of the $46 million in grants announced today (Sept. 30) in support of President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

UC scientists have long been at the frontline of efforts to understand the brain’s inner workings — a pre-eminence reflected by the grants: Of the 58 NIH awards, 14 are projects led by researchers from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco.

Collectively, UC researchers will receive more than $10 million of the $46 million that the NIH is awarding for 2014.

“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works — or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins in a statement. “There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible.”

The BRAIN Initiative was launched last year by Obama as a large-scale federal effort to help scientists develop new tools and technologies to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain functions and to accelerate the creation of new treatments for neurological disorders.

“These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain,” Collins said. “This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited about the possibilities.”

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