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Research News

Five UB inventions that could make life better for consumers

 body sensors

The body is roughly 60 percent water which may make ultrasonic sensors a more efficient way to share information.

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published January 16, 2014

Submarine-like body sensors and a new way to snuff out fungal infections are among the highlights from a year of inventing at UB.

In 2013, UB filed provisional patent applications — the precursor for a regular patent application — for 31 discoveries made by its researchers.

The five technologies below represent some of the most promising.

Moving forward, the scientists and engineers behind them will work with UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR) to bring their discoveries to the market — and make life better for consumers.

“As a major public research university, we want to ensure that the innovations of our many inventors benefit society as much as possible,” says Robert Genco, the vice provost who oversees STOR. “That means taking discoveries out of the lab and into the real world, and we provide startup support, research and development funds and other resources to help our faculty and students achieve this.”

 

Ultrasonic Body Sensors

Like a fleet of tiny submarines, tiny sensors inside the human body could employ ultrasonic waves to talk to one another and treat disease. UB engineers working to develop this technology say using sonar makes sense: The body is 65 percent water, and ultrasounds travel through water more efficiently than radio waves. It’s why the Navy uses sonar for deep-sea communication.

So far, through extensive simulation and experimentation, the UB team has designed an algorithm that maximizes the efficiency with which implantable devices talk to one another using ultrasound. The potential future payoff is huge: In diabetes patients, for example, such devices could monitor blood glucose levels and send signals telling implantable pumps when to release insulin.

Inventors: Tommaso Melodia, Giuseppe E. Santagati and Zhangyu Guan, Department of Electrical Engineering

 

Conquering Gonorrhea

UB scientists have come up with a new way to fight gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that, if left untreated, can lead to life-threatening ectopic pregnancies and infant blindness. One of gonorrhea’s quirks is that people can get it many times: Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the offending bacterium, disables some of the best weapons the human body deploys against the germ.

To defeat this defense mechanism, researchers turned to Interleukin-12, a protein known to stimulate an immune response against tumors that normally suppress immunity. When mice received intravaginal doses of microspheres loaded with Interleukin-12, the animals kicked their gonorrhea infection in days — and could not be reinfected a month later. The team now has expanded its work, using the spheres to deliver antibodies that neutralize two compounds — Interleukin-10 and TGF-beta —that help N. gonorrhoeae block human immune response.

Inventors: Michael W. Russell, Nejat Egilmez and Yingru Liu, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

 

Killing Fungus

Fungal infections in the mouth, known as thrush or oral candidiasis, can cause great difficulty in eating and swallowing in people with weak immune systems, as well as infants and children.

To add to the arsenal of weapons for fighting these infections, UB dental researchers are developing a new therapy. The treatment marries derivatives of histatin-5 — an antifungal protein — to chemical compounds that encourage fungal cells to absorb the derivatives.

The remedy killed oral fungus in the mouth efficiently, working against both Candida albicans and Candida glabrata, two of the most common culprits behind disease. With drug-resistant species emerging and the number of immunocompromised patients increasing, new treatments could play a critical role in stopping fungal attacks.

Inventor: Mira Edgerton, Department of Oral Biology

 

Better LEDs

When an LED bulb glows white, what you’re actually seeing is a blue LED shining in combination with compounds called phosphors that glow red and yellow — a mix that produces white.

To improve this technology, UB engineers have crafted tiny crystals called quantum dots that emit both red and yellow light more effectively than traditional materials. Though other scientists also have created quantum dots, their crystals lose efficiency at the high temperature and light levels required to operate LEDs; the UB quantum dots do neither.

As an added bonus, the new crystals are made from readily obtainable and nontoxic indium phosphide. This could be a boon to manufacturers, as today’s phosphors generally contain rare-earth elements whose price and availability often are unstable.

Inventor: Keith Kahen, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

 

Quick Hardening

Shining ultraviolet light on certain inks, resins and films can cut down the time it takes them to cure, or harden, into a solid. This is because they contain particles called photoinitiators that trigger hardening upon exposure to the light.

While common, ultraviolet curing poses health risks because it produces ozone.

A new UB technology tackles this problem. Scientists at the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB) have crafted nanoparticles that convert innocuous near-infrared light into ultraviolet radiation. These particles can be embedded inside films and resins, and then activated for UV curing by an external source of near-infrared light. This would not only prevent exposure to ozone, but also allow for curing of thicker materials, as near-infrared light can penetrate 3-D objects more deeply than UV light.

Inventors: Paras Prasad, ILPB and departments of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and Electrical Engineering; Tymish Ohulchanskyy and Guanying Chen, ILPB; and Hong Sub Jee, Department of Electrical Engineering