A project aimed at controlling pharmaceutical purification with light has been selected for financial support from Princeton’s Intellectual Property Accelerator Fund.
José Avalos, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and his team have created a new way to purify proteins, a key step in the creation of many medicines and diagnostic tests. The purification system relies on proteins that bind each other in the dark and then disconnect from each other when illuminated by blue light. A purification method based on these light-responsive proteins could replace more costly methods, helping to reduce the price of biologic therapeutics for cancer and other diseases. The purification technique also has the potential to reduce the amount of harsh chemicals and hazardous waste generated during the manufacture of industrial chemicals.
The Fund helps transition University discoveries from early-stage research into technologies that can address societal needs. Often, discoveries made at universities require additional work to demonstrate their suitability to become a new beneficial product or service. The IP Accelerator Fund provides assistance that goes toward proof-of-concept work, data collection or construction of prototypes. This support can help advance technologies to the stage where they can attract investment and licensing by a startup or existing company.
Projects are selected following a competitive application process that includes evaluation based on scientific and technical merit, innovation and novelty, the ability of the technology to meet a market or societal need, and the potential for public benefit.
Now in its tenth year, the IP Accelerator Fund has provided seed funding for numerous early-stage discoveries, including many that have been licensed to existing and newly formed startup companies working to develop Princeton discoveries into benefits for society.
"The IP Accelerator Fund helps faculty and their research teams strengthen the link between promising discoveries and real-world solutions," said John Ritter, director of Princeton's Office of Technology Licensing. "The overarching goal is to help University research provide widespread positive impacts.”
The other five projects awarded in 2022 are:
New drug candidates against cancer
Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology, and his team are developing a small-molecule inhibitor that could significantly enhance the efficacy of existing immunotherapies against a broad spectrum of human cancers. The team has identified drug candidates that inhibit the growth and spread, or metastasis, of several types of cancer, including breast, prostate, lung and colorectal, in mice either when given alone or in combination with immunotherapy. These drug candidates target proteins produced by the metadherin (MDTH) gene, which the team discovered as a driver of metastasis in at least 20 types of cancer. The development of drugs that inhibit MTDH activity could result in new curative therapies for cancer patients.
3D printing for housing and construction
Reza Moini, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his team aim to improve housing construction through 3D printing. The team is developing a new automated manufacturing process that enables printing of concrete materials with ideal properties, such as strength, impact-resistance and thermal insulation. The new device will combine ingredients, such as concrete with polymers, and print geometrically complex materials without manual interactions from the user. The resulting concrete polymers could have applications in facades, housing, bridges and other structures, bringing rapid construction methods and improved material properties to the construction and building industry.
Breaking the pharmaceutical cold chain with ultra-fine aerosols
Howard Stone, the Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, together with Maksim Mezhericher, research scholar in mechanical and aerospace engineering, are developing a method to dehydrate liquid vaccines and medicines, enabling the storage and transport of therapeutics that normally require the constant freezing or refrigeration know as a “cold chain.” The technology atomizes liquids into ultra-fine aerosols using a technique that is much faster and less energy-intensive than existing drying systems. The team plans to develop a small portable system for rapid room-temperature dehydration. The benefits include the ability to distribute medicines to areas that lack the refrigeration and freezing infrastructure to ensure the cold chain, eliminating the need for extensive storage space, providing longer shelf life, reducing the cost and improving the quality of drugs, and providing the ability to respond more quickly to disease outbreaks and pandemics.
New weapons against multi-drug resistant bacteria
Mohammad Seyedsayamdost, professor of chemistry, and his team developed a new approach for mining new antibacterial drugs among the many chemical agents that bacteria produce to compete against each other. By methodically searching the untapped store of antibacterial chemicals, the team has identified two promising chemical agents with specific and potent activity against one of the most urgent threats, Clostridium difficile. The researchers will first manufacture quantities of each antibiotic for testing, then evaluate them for their safety and efficacy in the laboratory setting, with the goal of eventually testing the compounds more broadly for use in humans.
Better and brighter augmented reality systems
Paul Prucnal, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team have found a way to combine high-brightness with high-resolution images for use in AR systems. The team uses electronically controlled color-switchable optical elements to improve the performance of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) found in today’s monitor screens and phones. OLEDs are energy efficient but lack the high resolution and brightness needed for AR’s 3D displays. The new invention by Prucnal’s group would dramatically increase the resolution and brightness, yielding a highly energy-efficient device delivering high pixel density, high brightness, and visual fidelity. The result would benefit not only gaming and education but also technological advances such as AI-assisted surgery and collaborative 3D data visualization.