The OVPR’s Tufts Launchpad |Accelerator awards five gap funding grants to help advance promising innovations

Five teams were awarded Tufts Launchpad | Accelerator (TLA) funding through the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. The TLA is a grant program funded by the University, and supported by the Technology Transfer and Industry Collaboration team, to address the greatest challenge in academic technology transfer, which is the funding gap – often referred to as the “valley of death” – between where federal funding of basic research ends and commercial interest begins.

Feasibility of a new method for non-invasive monitoring of low-grade bladder cancer
PI: Igor Sokolov, Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering Department, School of Engineering

Bladder cancer (BC) is one of the most common cancers and causes of cancer-related deaths both in the US (with estimated 81,190 new cases and 17,240 deaths only in 2018, with > 800,000 survivors) and globally. Thus, there is an unmet need for a noninvasive test which would be sufficiently accurate for low-grade BC. Dr. Sokolov will use the award to generate data to demonstrate the ability of atomic force microscopy to detect bladder cancer.
Solar-driven water remediation device and solar panel protectant

PI: Mary Jane Shultz, Ph.D., Chemistry Department, School of Arts and Sciences
This project aims to combat the global water crisis through development of a solar-driven water remediation device which uses a photocatalyst that absorbs ultraviolet radiation in sunlight to break down a broad spectrum of organic contamination in drinking water. The device would provide a sustainable and effective solution to provide clean water  in remote areas without the need for expanded infrastructure. More broadly, it could also provide a point-of-use solution for eliminating recalcitrant contaminants such as formaldehyde, acetone, and pharmaceuticals, as well as bacterial contaminants often picked up in the distribution system.
Optimization of new gonococcal vaccine candidates 
PI: Paola Massari, Ph.D., Immunology Department, School of Medicine

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), causes severe reproductive tract complications in women. Recent emergence of antibiotic-resistant N. gonorrhoeae strains has accelerated the search for an effective vaccine, but protective antigens remain scarce. Dr. Massari will use the awarded funds to validate and improve the efficacy of novel, and uniquely selected, vaccine candidates in a mouse model of gonococcal vaginal colonization.
An improved diagnostic test for Lyme Disease 
PI:  Peter Gwynne, Ph.D., Molecular and Microbiology Department, School of Medicine

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is a significant clinical challenge for which current technologies are inadequate in a number of areas. Principally, these diagnostics have poor detection rates early in infection (when treatment is most effective) and they cannot differentiate active disease from an infection that has been successfully treated. Dr. Gwynne and his team have identified a panel of antibodies which arise earlier in the course of infection than those currently tested for thereby providing a more timely and reliable indication of disease. The antibody panel has the potential to replace or improve upon the existing Lyme Disease diagnostic tests.
Single-atom alloy RhCu catalysts for alkane dehydrogenations
PIs:  E. Charles Sykes, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, School of Arts and Sciences and Prashant Deshlahra, Ph.D., Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, School of Engineering

Small alkenes such as propene are essential building blocks of modern plastics such as polypropylene. In 2016, over 56 million tons of polypropylene was produced, and experts estimate the market will grow by over 100 billion dollars by 2022. Traditionally, the propene required to make commodity plastics was produced from catalytic cracking of longer chain hydrocarbons. However, with the shift towards Shale gas in the United States, these long chain hydrocarbons are no longer available in sufficient quantity to meet industrial demand. Dr. Syke's and Dr. Deshlahra report the development of a Rhodium Copper (RhCu) bimetallic catalyst which exceeds the reactivity of the industrial catalyst, with dramatically reduced coke formation – offering a much more environmentally friendly method of direct propane
Finally, the OVPR would like to say congratulations to the awardees. The office is thrilled to have the opportunity to support these projects and looks forward to learning about the further development of these projects.