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MU's physicians and engineers receive $5 million from Wallace H. Coulter partnership

Friday, August 31, 2012 | 7:03 p.m. CDT; updated 4:11 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — A partnership with the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation will help fund five biomedical engineering research projects at MU's School of Medicine and College of Engineering.

The Coulter Translational Partnership Award in Biomedical Engineering will award $5 million over the next five years to the five projects as well as several more rounds of selected projects, said Laura Gerding, a School of Medicine spokeswoman.

"The awards are designed to help research become attractive for investment and ultimately commercialization so that it can benefit patients and society," program director Jake Halliday said during a celebration of the partnership on Friday.

MU is one of 15 universities nationally to receive the award; others include Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Duke universities.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said it is significant and distinctive to achieve this status, and it will expand on MU's existing resources.

"We are one of few universities in the nation with schools and colleges of medicine, engineering, nursing, health professions, veterinary medicine, agriculture and business, as well as a nuclear research center and comprehensive academic medical center all on the same campus," Deaton said at the event at Reynolds Alumni Center.

Wallace H. Coulter was an engineer and founder of a medical diagnostics company in Miami and was a founding father in laboratory hematology, the science and study of blood. According to the foundation's website, his deepest passion was to improve health care and make those improvements available and affordable for everyone. 

"These researchers share a passion for exploration, innovation, and collaboration with Coulter," said Robert Tzou, interim associate dean at MU's College of Engineering. "They are some of our most promising engineers and physicians."

The teams are working on transitional research projects, which take results out of the lab and into the community. The five winning projects are led by an engineer and a physician. The projects presented Friday were:

  • Li-Qun Gu and Michael Wang are working on a way to better diagnose and monitor lung cancer therapy. They're investigating the use of a protein as an early diagnostic tool that can be used as a cost-effective and non-invasive screening test to monitor lung cancer therapies. 
  • Raghuraman Kannan and Gerald Arthur with help from biological engineering student Chuck Caldwell are working on a kit that will help with personalized diagnosis of a cancer patient's potential response to a particular chemotherapy drug, Kannan said. The team has developed an antibody that attaches to a protein on cancerous cells to help determine the type of tumor and, consequently, the course of treatment.
  • Sheila Grant and Richard White are developing technology that will produce tissue grafts to help with anterior crucial ligament (ACL) injuries. Their developments will provide a tissue network that will integrate with the surrounding joints better, will last longer and will have better functionality than current grafts.
  • John Viator and Stephen Barnes are developing a laser that will help create an image of burn wounds, which will result in more effective treatment of burn victims. The laser will be able to probe the burn and determine the depth of the wound. Depending on whether the skin is dead, with brown, dried blood or healthy with red blood, the laser will react differently and can then create a depth profile to provide objective information that the surgeon can use to determine course of action.
  • Gang Yao and Judith Miles are working on parameters for a light reflex test that will help identify neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, in infants and toddlers. The test is called pupillary light reflex (PLR) and measures pupil size changes in response to a short light flash. Documenting changes in a child's PLR over time can help monitor a child's neurodevelopmental progress.

These five projects were selected because they had scientific merit and met clinical needs, according to a release from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at MU. Over the next four years, more projects at MU will be chosen for funding.

"I look forward to watching the research develop into products that will help patients here and around the world," Tzou said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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