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Seven awesome UB inventions from 2012

Streptococcus-pneumoniae

A healthy Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterial cell (upper right) next to a bacterial cell destroyed and lysed by HAMLET, a milk protein complex from human milk (lower right). Photo LAURA R. MARKS

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published June 19, 2014

Nanoparticles that “teach” the immune system to tolerate protein-based drugs. Vascular grafts that stimulate regeneration of blood vessels in a patient’s body.

These innovations may sound like the stuff of the future, but they’re part of a portfolio of inventions that UB announced over the past year.

In 2012, UB filed a provisional patent application, the precursor for a regular patent application, for each of the technologies below.

In all, the university filed 33 provisional patent applications in 2012, according to the Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR), which works with faculty, staff and student inventors to commercialize promising new breakthroughs.

‘Self-seeding’ blood vessels

Vascular disease affects millions of Americans and treatment bottlenecks include a lack of suitable replacement vessels for grafting. Now, however, UB medical and engineering researchers are working to commercialize one potential solution: They have developed a way to produce customized blood vessel segments that are programmed to regenerate nearly normal blood vessels when grafted into patients. These grafts recruit the body’s repair system by recruiting patients’ cells into the final formation of the graft, according to UB STOR.

Inventors: Daniel D. Swartz, Stelios T. Andreadis, Maxwell Koobatian, Maoshih Liang, UB departments of Pediatrics, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Physiology and Biophysics.

Superbug destroyer

In an age when drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ are growing in number, UB medical researchers have discovered a way to give average antibiotics super strength. HAMLET, a protein-lipid complex in breast milk, possesses limited antibiotic abilities when used alone. But when combined with existing antibiotics, a potent synergistic effect occurs in which bacteria become more sensitive to the drugs. Some antibiotic-resistant bacteria even regained sensitivity to the antibiotics they were resisting, says Anders Hakansson, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. This has the potential to extend the lifetime of the current arsenal of safe treatment options.

Inventors: Anders Hakansson, Hazeline Hakansson, Laura Marks, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Biofilm eradicator

UB engineers and medical researchers have partnered to create an electrochemical technique for eradicating biofilm infections on metallic medical implants. Biofilms are layers of micro-organisms that congregate on a surface, and they’re a frequent cause of hospital-associated infections. The novel eradication method has shown the ability to reliably and quickly eliminate pre-formed biofilms, according to UB STOR. It’s good news for patients with orthopedic and dental implants.

Inventors: Mark Ehrensberger, Anthony A. Campagnari, Esther Takeuchi, Nicole Luke-Marshall, departments of Biomedical Engineering, Microbiology and Immunology, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Electrical Engineering

Nano-shields for protein therapeutics

Protein-based drugs hold promise for treating many diseases, but the body’s immune system often pegs the proteins as foreign and attacks them. To address this problem, UB pharmaceutical sciences researchers have developed methods for using lipid-based nanoparticles that “teach” the immune system to tolerate protein therapeutics, avoiding treatment complications. The technology is part of a portfolio that STOR has been developing for a spinoff company under development. UB’s newly launched Innovation Hub (iHub) is helping to advance this project, which could help patients with diseases including hemophilia.

Inventor: Sathy Balu-Iyer, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Tumor suppressor

Many cancer cells have a carbohydrate structure on their surface known as the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen (also the CD176 antigen), which appears to play a pivotal role in the spread of tumors. UB scientists have discovered a mouse antibody that binds specifically to this antigen, halting its activity and significantly reducing metastasis of cancer in mouse models. Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, the inventor, has started the company For-Robin to develop the antibody for use in humans.

Inventor: Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences

MicroRNA as cancer-fighter

With help from colleagues at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, pharmaceutical scientists at UB have discovered that restoring levels of a microRNA that is underexpressed in certain types of cancer significantly suppresses tumor growth in animal models. Administration of this microRNA or its precursors could have applications in preventing and treating cancer.

Inventors: Aiming Yu, Yuzhuo Pan, Jingxin Qiu, departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

New imaging agents

UB chemists have developed a series of contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These “smart” contrast agents hold promise to be developed as tools for monitoring the progress of cancer treatments and deciding which treatments to implement. One benefit: Patients who can’t tolerate MRI contrast agents currently used in the clinic may respond better to the new agents, some of which contain metal ions that are biologically relevant. Smart contrast agents that turn on when encountering the metal ions in tissue also are under development. The Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund is supporting commercialization of this innovation.

Inventors: Janet Morrow, Pavel Tsitovich, Sarina Dorazio, Abiola Olatunde, Department of Chemistry