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Coulter Partnership 2016: Five research teams funded for projects focused on improving human health

In its first decade, the program has funded 18 projects that evolved into new companies

Five teams of biomedical engineers and clinicians have received one-year grants for research through the 2016 Coulter-Duke Translational Partnership.

This year’s recipients are developing devices that range from a robotic surgical assist device for improving corneal transplant to a point-of-care imaging device that uses ultrasound to measure the elasticity of skin and liver tissue, allowing physicians to better diagnose skin and liver sclerosis. The common thread among all of the projects is a plan to move these ideas out of the ivory tower and into the commercial world so that they can improve patient care.

Each team has a lead investigator with an appointment in the Pratt School of Engineering’s Department of Bomedical Engineering, and at least one faculty or staff member from the Duke University School of Medicine, as required by the original agreement with the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation in 2005.

In its first decade, the program has funded 18 projects that evolved into new companies dedicated to human health and licensing new ideas to pharmaceutical and medical technology companies.

“This was far in excess of expectations,” says Barry Myers, MD, PhD, the director of the program.

So far in excess, in fact, that the Coulter Foundation waived the required five-year review of the program in 2016 and automatically renewed the partnership with Duke for another five years.

Myers believes the program’s success is due, in part, to the team of project reviewers and project managers funded through the close collaboration of the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Coulter Program.

“Our faculty have fantastic ideas, but it takes a lot of effort and resources to move an idea from academia into business,” Myers says. “We are excited about the promise each of the projects for 2016 has for rapidly moving into a product that will generate excitement from investors and others in the healthcare market.”

2016 Duke-Coulter Projects

Surgical Image-Guided Robot Assist Device for Partial Thickness Corneal Transplantation

Professor of BME and ophthalmology Joseph Izatt and ophthalmic surgeon Anthony Kuo are developing a novel robotic surgical assist device to overcome barriers to widespread adoption of a greatly improved form of corneal transplant surgery.

High Throughput Screening of Gene Regulator Elements That Enhance T Cell Immunotherapy

Associate professor of BME Charles Gersbach; professor of neurosurgery John Sampson; associate professor of pediatrics Gregory Crawford; and assistant professor of bioinformatics and biostatistics Timothy Reddy will combine a CRISPR-based epigenome editing technology for high-throughput screening of gene regulatory elements and expertise in immunotherapy to develop strategies to enhance the effectiveness of T cell-mediated elimination of solid tumors.

Next-Generation Non-Immunogenic PEG-like Protein Conjugates

BME senior research scientist Angus Hucknall and professor Michael Hershfield from the Departments of Biochemistry and Medicine will team up to develop a novel polymer that can increase the stability of biologic drugs in the same manner as the polymer poly(ethylene glycol) PEG, without inducing the antibodies and allergic reactions that have impeded some clinical trials of PEGylated biologics.


Two teams that received support from the Coulter Award last year receive continued support beginning in September 2016:

Novel Technique for Noninvasive Intracranial Pressure Measurement

BME associate research professor Dale Bass and pediatric neurosurgeon Carrie Muh will continue to develop a passive pressure sensor to allow non-invasive measurement of intracranial pressure and shunt flow in patients who have a shunt implanted to drain excess fluid from around the brain.


Constructive Shear Wave Interference Measurement in Liver and Skin

BME research scientist Peter Hollender, Mark Palmeri, an associate professor of the practice in BME, and Adela Rambi Cardones, an assistant professor of dermatology, will adapt last year’s project of developing an ultrasound elastography device for measuring the stiffness of the liver to include a skin transducer that can measure sclerotic skin as a biomarker for chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD).