Sunday, December 7, 2008

Commercialization on the Rise

The University of Pittsburgh is moving ahead on a number of technology commercialization projects. A number of these innovations are highlighted in the University of Pittsburgh, Office of Technology Management’s 2008 Annual Report. According to Marc S. Malandro Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology Management and Commercialization, the university received $642 million in research funding last year.

Over 400 Pitt innovators have participated in the commercialization of the university research. There was a 36 percent in FY 2008 increase in patents awarded to Pitt innovators and a $9 million increase in revenue generated from licensed and optioned innovations in FY 2008.This has kept the staff of both the Office of Technology Management and the Office of Enterprise Development, Health Sciences working at full capacity to manage the flow of ideas and move technology through the commercialization process.

Cardiorobotics, a start-up company spun off of university innovations in FY 2008 is developing highly articulated robotic probes designed for use in minimally invasive surgeries. The probes are teleoperated and are able to steer a self-supported non-linear path. The company is in the pre-clinical stage and expects to begin human clinical trials in 2009. Marco Zenati, Professor of Surgery at the university is co-founder of the company.

Another innovation mentioned in the report reports the development of tiny carbon nanotube-based sensors to help asthmatics fend off attacks. Asthma sufferers need to be able to predict accurately oncoming attacks, and Professor Star, a researcher at the university has developed a sensor to allow asthmatics to measure nitric oxide early. The wires used in the device, are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair and since the wires are so tiny, the measurement device can be both disposable and small making it ideal for home use.

Another university professor Andrew Schwartz is making breakthroughs in robotic arm research by studying the ways in which the brain and the central nervous system control motor movement. This research enables the researchers to know how many variables that are forming the reaching movement are represented in the motor cortex section of the brain. This will be a breakthrough if perfected, and could change the lives of people afflicted with paralysis or the loss of a limb. So far, Schwartz’s team has been able to train monkeys with restrained limbs to use the robotic arm to reach successfully for a piece of food.

Schwartz is working with funding from NIH, DARPA, and the Whitaker Foundation. Although the team needs to overcome a number of hurdles before they are able to produce a practical medical device, however, human trials for a simplified version are now under way.