Duke Awards First Coulter Translational Research Grants

The Duke-Coulter Translational Partners Grant Program has selected its first four projects for funding, focusing on improved cancer treatment, intraoperative breast cancer diagnoses, improved therapy for degenerative arthritis of the knee, and bioengineered cartilage for hip joint repair. Each team will receive roughly $100,000 to bring their technology to a marketable stage.

Farshid Guilak, professor of orthopaedic surgery and biomedical engineering, is partnering with Kam Leong, professor of biomedical engineering and surgery and T. Parker Vail, MD, professor of surgery, to develop a tissue-engineered cartilage replacement as a therapy for osteoarthritis.

Nimmi Ramanujam, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Lee Wilke, MD, assistant professor of surgery; and Joseph Geradts, professor of pathology, are developing a new light-based technology for use during breast tumor lumpectomy surgery. The technology provides a way to assess the borders of the lumpectomy in order to make sure the cancerous tissue has been completed removed.

Ashutosh Chilkoti, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Mark Dewhirst, DVM, professor of radiation oncology; and Michael Colvin, MD, professor of hematology/oncology, will perform preclinical toxicity, immunogenicity and hemocompatibility studies of elastin thermal targeting technology for solid tumor treatment using chemotherapeutics, radionuclides and biologics.

Lori Setton, associate professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedic surgery; Virginia Kraus, MD, associate professor of rheumatology and medicine; and Chilkoti are developing a new system to deliver highly effective anti-inflammatory protein drugs into an osteoarthritic joint as a method of slowing the progression of the disease.

Benefits of a Duke-Coulter Grant

Last October, Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Pratt School of Engineering was one of only nine departments selected nationally to receive a Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Partnership Award in Biomedical Engineering. The partnership will provide $580,000 each year for the next five years.

The Duke-Coulter program addresses an unmet need for university faculty, as most federal funding programs typically do not support technology development to a commercially viable stage. Such grants will serve as a bridge to carry proof-of-concept technology ideas through the “valley of death” to a patentable product. To be eligible for funding, research teams must include a lead investigator from the BME department and at least one member of Duke’s Medical School faculty or staff.

“The goal of this grant program is to take research beyond purely academic investigation and move new technology into clinical practice for the benefit of patients,” said George Truskey, BME chair, and program manager for the grant. “This builds on a long standing department tradition of clinically applicable technology, such as the world’s first three-dimensional ultrasound system that allows physicians to examine any part of a beating heart in real time.”

After a year of support, the hope is that most research groups will be at a stage to pursue a patent and licensing, or potentially found a new company. The project management team will assist the teams to attract venture capital funding, to find a corporate partner, or to pursue Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding.

“The Coulter program provides us with key resources to help bring Duke research to the market to serve society,” said Barry Myers, who has a MD and Ph.D and is the Coulter project manager and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC). “This is much more than critical seed stage funding because our Coulter Project Management Team also provides business strategy expertise, a strong working relationship with the technology transfer office and better access to the legal and capital markets that the Duke faculty and physician-engineer funded teams need to be successful commercializing their research.”

“The Coulter program is purposely structured to foster collaboration between engineering and medical/clinical personnel, which is something we are very committed to as well,” said Truskey. “The underlying purpose is to make sure researchers are working on problems that are clinically relevant–— that really solve an issue medical personnel are grappling with.”

"This award sets up a formal mechanism to stimulate interaction between biomedical engineering and the Medical Center’s Translational Medicine Initiative that has not existed in the past and has previously relied on informal linkages between individuals. This is a growth area and Duke will be able to take advantage of the opportunities the award provides to assume a lead role nationally and internationally," said Bob Anderson, chair emeritus of surgery, and a member of the partnership’s Oversight Committee.

“Coulter supports the direct link between clinicians and biomedical engineers, which is just what is needed to create innovative, marketable technologies,” said Rose Ritts, Executive Director of Duke’s Office of Licensing & Ventures. “The projects are really focused on outcomes that have direct application for patients and excellent potential for near-term commercialization as follow-on to the Coulter awards.”

Each of the Coulter Foundation’s university programs are designed to foster sustainable programs that increase the volume of technology actually getting into clinical application and improving patient care. At the end of this five-year grant, Duke has the opportunity to receive an additional endowment from the Foundation to continue the program indefinitely.