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MU Awards Six Grants to Advance Biomedical Discoveries

Coulter program pairs physicians and engineers to develop new health technologies

September 18th, 2013

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The University of Missouri’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program awarded six grants today totaling approximately $600,000 to help launch biomedical research projects from laboratory studies to health care innovations.

The six interdisciplinary research teams that received the awards each include a faculty member from the MU College of Engineering and the MU School of Medicine. The funded research focuses on topics ranging from blood tests for bacterial infections to improved surgical repair of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.

“The strength of our partnership between the University of Missouri and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation is based on our common goal of transforming research discoveries into health care innovations that improve patients’ lives,” MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said. “The grants we are announcing today are evidence of MU’s culture of collaboration and dedication to innovation.”

MU’s Coulter program provides annual awards to research projects that demonstrate great scientific potential, meet a well-defined health care need, and include a clinician from the MU School of Medicine and a faculty member from the MU College of Engineering. The projects are reviewed by a committee that includes entrepreneurs, accomplished researchers and venture capital investors.

“As a physician, I’ve spent my career treating disease and caring for people, so I can tell you first-hand how vital innovation is to the field of medicine,” said Les Hall, interim dean of the MU School of Medicine and professor of internal medicine. “Through these projects, our goal is to help researchers advance through the innovation process and develop procedures and devices that will benefit patients.”

Funding for the research projects is provided by a $5 million partnership between MU and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. MU is one of only 15 academic institutions in the country and the only university in Missouri offering a Coulter Translational Partnership Program. The 2013 Coulter program awards of approximately $100,000 each were given to six teams with a total of 11 researchers to fund the following projects:

  • Surgical device for heart valve replacement: Raja Gopaldas, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the School of Medicine, and Sherif El-Gizawy, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, are creating a device to reduce a patient’s risk of stroke during minimally invasive surgery. The device will filter blood flowing from the patient’s brain while surgeons replace the aortic valve
  • Shoulder injury repair with tissue transplant: Matthew Smith, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine, and Ferris Pfeiffer, assistant professor in the MU Department of Bioengineering, are developing a technique for repairing severe rotator cuff shoulder injuries through minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. The procedure uses transplants of replacement bone and tendon tissue.
  • Improved cartilage replacement for joint surgery: James Stannard, chair and professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the School of Medicine and J. Vernon Luck Sr. Distinguished Professor, and Ferris Pfeiffer, assistant professor in the MU Department of Bioengineering, are working on a project to improve the success rates of cartilage transplants for patients with certain types of diseased joints. Stannard and Pfeiffer believe they can increase the amount of living tissue that survives the surgical procedure by modifying the shape of the transplanted portion of cartilage.
  • Using nanotechnology for targeted cancer therapies: Gerald Arthur, assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the School of Medicine, and Raghu Kannan, assistant professor in the MU Department of Bioengineering, are using nanotechnology to detect whether colon cancer and other cancers can be treated with specific therapies that target certain types of tumors.
  • Better ACL healing using nanomaterials: Richard White, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery in the School of Medicine and Sheila Grant, professor in the MU Department of Bioengineering, have developed patented technology for improving the success of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgeries using nanomaterials to promote better healing.
  • Faster blood tests to detect infection: John Pardalos, associate professor of child health in the Division of Neonatology, and Shramik Sengupta, associate professor in the MU Department of Bioengineering, are developing a quicker blood test to detect and treat dangerous infections earlier.

“Thanks to our partnership with the Coulter Foundation, the scientists we are recognizing here today have the recipe for success and the financial resources needed to create partnerships, develop technologies, complete commercialization and deliver improved medical care to patients,” said James Thompson, dean of the MU College of Engineering. “I believe Wallace Coulter would be incredibly impressed by the collaboration of engineers and physicians who are addressing complex health care needs. I congratulate our Coulter team and researchers and believe that the program will have a high impact in both discovery and commercialization relevant to improved health care.”

In addition to providing funding, the Coulter program supports scientists by connecting them with research and development experts from private industry and academia. Coulter scientists receive real-world advice on intellectual property protection, regulatory issues and market opportunities. They also engage with potential partners for financing and product development.

“MU’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program is designed to help research become attractive for investment and, ultimately, commercialization,” said Rebecca Rone, director of the MU’s Coulter program. “The awards we announced today are designed to bridge the funding gap for promising research projects that have excellent market potential but require more investment to advance through the research and commercialization process.”