Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Wayne State University Provide $2.2M to Develop Biomedical Technology


Three Wayne State University research teams have been awarded funding from the instutution’s Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program, which works to accelerate the translation and commercialization of its biomedical technologies and provide the resources to validate technical and market opportunities.

The MTRAC projects are supported by $1.1 million in funds from the Michigan Strategic Fund, administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and matched by WSU.

“The MTRAC program complements a number of the innovation programs provided by Wayne State’s Technology Commercialization Office,” says Joan Dunbar, associate vice president for technology commercialization at WSU. These programs include the monthly “Commercialization Conversations” educational sessions, mentors-in-residence, innovation fellows, and the Technology Development Incubator proof-of-concept funding program.

“Projects may transition between the programs, and each of the successful MTRAC applicants benefited from their prior engagement with one or more these programs.”

The WSU MTRAC program is broadly focused on medical devices and biomedical materials.

The applicants chosen for MTRAC funding are:

  • Zhiqiang Cao, assistant professor of chemical engineering for zwitterionic hyrdrogel based isled encapsulation technology: The project seeks to prove the feasibility of using technology to encapsulate xeno-source islets to correct diabetes. There is currently no encapsulation technology available for inducing blood vessel formation to sustain their cell survival and function long-term, but Cao’s technology utilizes a polymer material that will ultimately promote blood vessel growth to normal tissue levels and sustain high blood vessel density for longer periods of time.
  • Mohammad Avanaki, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, for his transfontanelle photoacoustic imaging probe for neonatal functional brain imaging. The project will use a technique called photoacoustic imaging, where laser light is reflected off blood cells in the brain of a premature infant to create an acoustic sound that can be received and interpreted. This method is safer and more easily accessible that an MRI or PET scan and allows the newborn to remain in an incubator.
  • Nivedita Dhar, assistant professor of urology, for technology designed to address stress-related urinary incontinence. Though current devices have multiple failures, the proposed project aims to have an adaptive control algorithm capable of self-adaptation to urethral morphology.

The awards are the culmination of a competitive selection process, beginning with the submission of letters of intent from faculty for nine prospective projects. The faculty worked closely with WSU’s Technology Commercialization Office and MTRAC program director Scott Olson to identify the clinical and market opportunities, as well as develop a plan for commercialization. Researchers then presented their proposals in person before a 10-member committee of medical experts, entrepreneurs, and investors from across the country.

Dunbar credits the availability and coordination of the programs for the recent increase in deal flow, the launch of startup companies at WSU, and the ability to successfully transition technologies from academia.

Through July, MTRAC programs have funded 134 projects and helped develop 21 start-up companies, creating 54 jobs and securing $72.8 million in follow up funding.

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