Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing
Some of the research emerging from URC universities can seem like science fiction, but it has practical, real-world applications to improve the health and quality of life of people around the world. These discoveries can increase the efficiency of healthcare efforts, reduce costs to patients, and—in some cases—serve as the basis for successful startup companies.
At MSU, a team led by university distinguished professor Marcos Dantus has developed a laser with a pulse duration shorter than one millionth of a second. Using these ultra-fast smart lasers, doctors can identify molecules that indicate disease quickly and noninvasively—an “optical biopsy.” Currently, tests for skin cancer involve cutting away a sliver of skin and sending it off to a lab, creating long wait times. This new technology allows doctors to conduct a biopsy as early as the patient’s first appointment, and review the results immediately, which can greatly increase chances of recovery. It is also more accurate and cheaper to use—it can see twice as deep, define margins more accurately, use much less energy, and salvage more tissue.
“In the case of melanoma, which is a fast, progressive cancer, it can literally mean a life or death difference,” Dantus said. “Melanoma usually starts from the very top layers, so if it’s detected on time and removed on time, the prognosis is usually good.”
Safe drug dosages are determined by measuring the toxicity of drugs in animals, but results can often be skewed because animals process medications much more quickly than humans. U-M researchers are using a microfluidic chip to deliver a precise flow of medication across kidney cells as an alternative testing option that may be the beginning of improvements in dosing, reducing instances of kidney damage in patients.
“When you administer a drug, its concentration goes up quickly, and its gradually filtered out as it flows through the kidneys,” said Shuichi Takayama, U-M professor of biomedical engineering. “A kidney on a chip enables us to simulate that filtering process, providing a much more accurate way to study how medications behave in the body.”
WSU spin-off RetroSense Therapeutics is a success story on several fronts. They are helping restore vision in patients suffering from blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa and advanced dry age-related macular degeneration, for which there are no FDA-approved therapies. RetroSense also represents the strong innovation ecosystem of the URC institutions. “The world-leading research conducted at Wayne State University formed the bedrock on which RetroSense was founded. It was a great experience working with the university, which was supportive at the research level, in tech transfer, and beyond,” Said Sean Ainsworth, CEO and founder of RetroSense Therapeutics. In June 2016, RetroSense was named one of the 50 smartest companies by MIT Technology Review, and in the fall of 2016 it was acquired by Allergan
The URC is an incredible asset for our industry, state, and citizens in terms of the scale of R&D conducted at its universities in critically important areas. Medical and healthcare discoveries with the potential to improve and save lives position Michigan as a top state for innovation in the life, medical and health sciences.
I think certainly there has been an uptick in entrepreneurship in the state, and I think a lot of that is owed to the URC getting more involved in economic development in the last 10 years.
The University Research Corridor showcases Michigan’s world class universities, economic competitiveness, and scientific breakthroughs being made every day in our state. This innovative partnership is creating jobs, fostering relationships with all types of businesses, from our largest corporations to smallest entrepreneurial businesses, and driving innovation in all sectors of our economy.