The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) recognized researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for their inventions and commercialization efforts made within the last year at the 2017 Innovation Awards Ceremony, held December 7 at the Wassell Randolph Student Alumni Center Dining Hall on the Health Science Center campus.
“The university conducts research that generates groundbreaking inventions, and patents are key to the protection and commercialization of these inventions,” said Richard Magid, PhD, vice president of the UT Research Foundation and speaker at the event. “In 2017, more inventions than ever before were submitted to UTRF, placing us in a great position to attract partnerships to develop new products that will improve the quality of life for Tennesseans and drive economic development.”
Other speakers included UTHSC Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD; UTRF Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) Chris West; Monica Jablonski, PhD, UTHSC professor of Ophthalmology; and Mojdeh Dehghan, DDS, associate professor of Dentistry at UTHSC.
Dr. Jablonski’s research interests include mechanisms that regulate photoreceptor outer segment assembly, mouse models of eye disease, genetic modulators of glaucoma, and formulations for sustained delivery of ophthalmic therapeutics. She is the inventor on two granted patents for her work at UTHSC, and spoke about her lab’s work developing ophthalmic drug formulations that improve treatment efficacy by prolonging the duration of time that a drug compound remains in the eye.
Dr. Dehghan has over 25 years of private practice experience. She holds national leadership positions with the American Association of Women Dentists and the American Association of Cosmetic Dentistry. Her presentation to the audience described her project to develop a two-layer edible formulation for treating acidic tooth decay. The multilayer formulation contains an outer material that neutralizes the oral acidity and an inner material that promotes tooth remineralization. This work, funded under a UTRF Maturation Grant, will be especially relevant to patients with conditions that cause oral acidity, such as GERD, bulimia, and certain cancers.
West is UTHSC’s first EIR and a former executive in the health care industry, who came to UTHSC with over 20 years of experience in tactical and strategic marketing for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. He served as the keynote speaker for the event. West is working with multiple UTHSC research teams to coach them on how to apply their science to solving real-world patient needs and creating products that have value in the marketplace. Chris also joined the UTRF team to review applications for the 2018 UTRF Maturation Grants, UTRF’s annual seed funding program that provides $15,000 awards to advance development of promising ideas and discoveries.
During his keynote address, West reflected on his first six months working with UTHSC researchers and spoke about the importance of understanding the value proposition of each potential new product. Praising the ideas and enthusiasm of the four teams he mentored in 2017, West expressed how much enjoyment he is taking from the role of entrepreneur-in-residence and how impressed he has been with the technologies being developed at UTHSC.
He went on to urge all of the researchers in the audience to seek out early feedback from potential users and customers, and to use that feedback to develop their Minimum Viable Product or MVP. West noted that the process of finding an MVP will separate the critical product features from those features that are simply “nice to have” and should wait until later.
For a complete list of award recipients and photographs of the awards ceremony, please visit: https://utrf.tennessee.edu/uthsc-2017-innovation-award-ceremony/.
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