The winners of the Fall 2019 Duke Incubation Fund awards have been announced, representing promising innovation happening across the University. Seven projects will receive funds totaling $129,000.
The Incubation Fund, run by Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), supports early-stage ideas from Duke’s innovation ecosystem with the potential to go to market. Whereas many resources exist at Duke to support research and commercialization, the Incubation Fund is among the only opportunities for innovations still in the ideation stage. The Fund is made possible by a gift from I&E advisory board member Jeffrey Citron and his wife, Suzanne.
One goal of the Fund is to foster innovation in all corners of Duke. While previous awards have supported faculty, staff, and students representing schools and departments ranging from the Nicholas School, to the School of Nursing, all the way to the Dance Program, this year’s awardees represent the Department of Pathology, the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Department of Radiology, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
The Incubation Fund awardees for 2019-2020 are:
Soman Abraham, PhD, Professor of Pathology: Mast cells are responsible for a wide range of inflammatory disorders, from mild skin rash to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This team is exploring a novel mast cell inhibitor molecule to treat non-clonal mast cell activation syndrome (nc-MCAS), for which there are currently no FDA-approved treatments. In addition to potentially preventing nc-MCAS-related anaphylaxis and symptoms, this molecule could lead to the development of therapeutics to treat other mast cell-mediated diseases.
Mattia Bonsignori, MD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Duke Human Vaccine Institute : Using an antibody type from a Zika-infected pregnant woman who bore a healthy infant—an antibody type that doesn’t cross the placenta or cross-react with the Dengue virus like other antibodies capable of neutralizing the Zika virus—this team seeks to generate critical data needed for preclinical studies that would pave the way for clinical vaccine trials.
Charles Kim, MD, Associate Professor of Radiology and Division Chief, Interventional Radiology: Ultrasound probes were designed for diagnostic use and are thus limited when it comes to their use in needle guidance; this project seeks to develop a dedicated interventional ultrasound probe that utilizes a novel approach to image acquisition and processing, thereby optimizing needle guidance.
Maciej Mazurowski, PhD, Associate Professor in Radiology: Using software based on an algorithm developed and tested by Duke scientists and clinicians, this team will work to create a clinical-use software prototype to evaluate knee radiographs in order to grade the severity of knee osteoarthritis.
Samira Musah, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Assistant Professor of Medicine: Through the design and engineering of a novel microfluidic device that mimics the tissue structure and filtration system of a human kidney, Fixoria Biomimetics seeks to develop a vascularized 3D in vitro kidney model that can be used to discover novel therapeutics for human kidney disease.
Jesus del Carmen Valdiviezo Mora | Chemistry Graduate Student: Evolutionary Microfluidics looks to use AI algorithms to design, manufacture, and patent microfluidic devices that act as efficient analyzers and microreactors of biological samples, eventually commercializing these devices within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to reduce the time needed for research and development.
Zohair Zia | Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Student: Neptune Access makes modifications to an IV port so it can be used to obtain blood samples, reducing the need for numerous blood draws through repeated venipuncture, especially for those patients who may require multiple attempts for each successful blood sample.
Many of these projects have already benefited from the support of innovation- and entrepreneurship-related resources across Duke. Zohair Zia’s work on an adapted IV port won the Duke Institute for Health Innovation’s annual Innovation Jam supporting pragmatic health innovations with the potential for immediate application or possible commercialization. Soman Abraham’s new venture focused on mast cell inhibitor therapy is receiving coaching and business strategy support from a mentor-in-residence and an MBA student through the New Ventures Program run by the Office of Licensing & Ventures.
These resources, as well as the early-stage support provided by the Incubation Fund, can prove decisive in whether progress continues on a project. Charles Kim, who received an award for an interventional ultrasound probe, said, “This will provide funding for the materials and expertise needed for the crucial step of formal prototype development, without which further progress would not be possible.”
Now that the Fund, which was established in 2017, is entering its fourth funding cycle, “We’re starting to be able to track the success of previous awardees, which is exciting,” says Dr. Sharlini Sankaran, Director of Translational Programs at Duke I&E.
Duke spin-out inSomaBio has gone on to receive funding from the Duke Angel Network, whereas others are in various stages of obtaining follow-on funding from investor groups or local and federal entrepreneurial funding programs.
Michael Kliën, an Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance, received an Incubation Fund award last year for his work on the Hydrean, a unique physical meditation device that encourages embodiment and teaches a systematic practice of mindfulness. The Hydrean was featured at this year’s Invented at Duke celebration—and undergraduate students in the I&E Certificate, intrigued by Kliën’s product, decided to do a business development project for their capstone class focused on getting the Hydrean adopted into mainstream media.
“The Incubation Fund fills a critical funding need for early-stage projects that need a lift to get off the ground, whether that be prototype building, early-stage market research, or obtaining critical equipment and supplies,” said Sankaran. “In keeping with Duke I&E’s mission of being a catalyst and an enabler for innovation at Duke, we’re happy to provide support to these promising projects so they can ultimately benefit society at large.”