Tufts Launchpad | Accelerator (TLA)
The Tufts Launchpad | Accelerator (TLA) is a grant program funded by the University to address the greatest challenge in academic technology transfer, which is the funding gap – often referred to as the “valley of death” – between the end of federal funding of basic research and the beginning of commercial interest.
While Tufts innovators generate groundbreaking scientific discoveries in their labs, translating these ideas into useful products for the public benefit involves many additional steps and requires substantial funding. The goal of the TLA Program is to provide Tufts’ faculty with the ability to advance technologies invented at Tufts towards commercialization. The TLA Program will provide awardees with funding of up to $75,000 and business development support from the Office of Vice Provost of Research to facilitate product development and technology de-risking with the ultimate goal to attract follow-on resources and generate interest in licensing from existing companies or startups.
Mary Shultz, PhD, Tufts University Department of Chemistry
Around the world, lack of access to clean, safe water is a persistent problem. At least 2 billion people today use a drinking water source contaminated with feces, resulting in the transmission of diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, and there are nearly 500,000 diarrhea related deaths annually. In the next 4 years lack of access to clean water is anticipated to worsen, with half of the world’s population living in water-stressed areas. Single-metal atom catalysts have emerged as an effective solution for solar-based water purification.
Professor Shultz and her team have developed a scalable method to bond high concentrations of active single atom metal catalysts to ultrananoparticles (UNPs) of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2). While there are many potential applications of this technology around industrial material and fuel synthesis, the Shultz group is driven to develop the technology to purify water efficiently and economically. The team has successfully demonstrated a catalytic efficiency of 40%, three times the required efficiency for solar-powered water purification. Next, the team needs to ensure the affordability of the technology. While the photocatalyst particle’s ultranano size (~1-2 nm diameter) augments its efficiency, it makes it very difficult to filter out of the water, which would result in the loss of the catalyst when the water is consumed.
To combat this problem the Shultz group is developing an inorganic porous scaffold transparent to ultraviolet light to allow for repeated use of the photocatalyst and to ultimately provide affordable clean water with limited sunlight. A scaffold material has been identified and development is underway. Professor Shultz and her team were awarded a grant to refine the scaffold and generate a demonstration solar-driven water remediation device to prove the concept and move closer to commercialization.
“Every 20 seconds a child dies due to lack of safe drinking water: I was nearly one of those children until a doctor recommended bottled water” says Professor Shultz about her personal connection to the work. Adding, “Upon reading that an efficient photocatalyst could use sunlight to convert deleterious pollutants into harmless CO2 and water, we set about modifying the catalyst to increase efficiency. Thanks to the TLA grant, we can now develop the remaining components of a practical device to save the children of the world!”
Peter Gwynne, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Tufts University Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
The threat of Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans, is one that hits close to home for those of us located in the New England area. Yet, the diagnosis and monitoring of Lyme disease is challenging and can lead to inappropriate treatments and the overuse of antibiotics. It is estimated that the standard testing regime (STT testing) costs the U.S. health care system upwards of $500 million dollars due to its extensive use (>3 million tests are run annually). Notably, the STT test has several limitations: it does not reliably detect disease until 3-4 weeks after infection, it cannot track disease recovery, and the protocol has complex procedures and difficult to interpret results.
Dr. Gwynne is looking to address the aforementioned obstacles with a novel antibody panel for Lyme diagnosis. These previously undescribed antibodies were discovered through research into the unusual metabolism of the Lyme disease bacteria. In Lyme infected serum samples, the elevation of these antibodies are able to diagnose infection with a similar sensitivity to the STT test. Moreover, antibody titers decline after antibiotic treatment. Furthermore, these results indicate that these antibodies can allow for the quantitation of disease resolution. The new panel and associated test can easily be implemented in the clinical setting due to a simple protocol and easy-to-interpret results. This panel will assist clinicians in managing the disease and chronic symptoms, and ultimately reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics. Dr. Gwynne also aspires to develop the panel into a point-of-care test for individuals concerned about Lyme exposure.
The Tufts University Office of the Vice Provost for Research, through the Tufts Launchpad Accelerator (TLA) program, proudly awarded Dr. Gwynne funds to obtain sensitivity and specificity data to move the diagnostic closer to commercialization, and to address this urgent need. “The TLA program has not only funded the research we need to drive the development of our diagnostic, but also given us access to a network of expertise and experience that has been invaluable as we move from the laboratory towards a real-world application,” says Dr. Gwynne.