$1 Million Awarded for Columbia-Coulter Translational Research Partnership

University researchers working with viral DNA
—Photo courtesy of Center for Infection and Immunity

The Columbia-Coulter Translational Research Partnership (CCTRP) has awarded $1 million to support six innovative projects and accompanying program administration in its first cycle. This program, which the University was invited to join last November, is a highly coveted partnership with the prestigious Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Under the leadership of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, it will provide $5 million of funding over five years—two-thirds from the Foundation, one-third from Columbia—to accelerate the development and use of biomedical innovations toward improving clinical use and patient care.

The projects span a broad range of topics and scientific areas, including portable diagnostic devices for the detection of viral and bacterial infections, novel drug-delivery systems for brain diseases, methods for tendon repair, smart image analysis algorithms for cancer treatment evaluation, and pacemaker placement in the heart.

“This is an exceptionally strong set of projects, all with a chance to have a major impact on health care,” says Andreas Hielscher, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology (Physics), and Electrical Engineering, who was the principal investigator of Columbia’s application to Coulter and led the program over the past year. This role will now transition to Andrew Laine, the newly appointed Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Percy K. and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology (Physics).

The funded projects and their lead investigators are:

  • Principals: Elisa Konofagou, PhD and Scott Small, MD
    Title: Focused Ultrasound for Non-Invasive Drug Delivery of Neurotherapeutics
    Dr. Elisa Konofagou (Biomedical Engineering) has pioneered the use of focused ultrasound (FUS) to noninvasively and reversibly open the blood-brain barrier (BBB), allowing drugs to traverse the BBB into targeted brain regions. Together, she and Dr. Scott Small (Neurology) are confirming the safety of FUS-enabled BBB opening in primate models.
  • Principals: Kenneth Shepard, PhD and W. Ian Lipkin, MD
    Title: Rapid, Label-Free Detection of Pulmonary Pathogens
    Drs. Kenneth Shepard (Electrical Engineering) and Ian Lipkin (Epidemiology) are developing a single-molecule detection platform that will sense one-in-a-billion concentrations of viral or bacterial DNA, within minutes. The USB-compatible device employs carbon nanotubes to directly detect the DNA, permitting label-free detection with high-specificity. Their first application focuses on detection of pulmonary pathogens.
  • Principals: Helen Lu, PhD and William Levine, MD
    Title:  Biomimetic Graft for Rotator Cuff Repair
    Drs. Helen Lu (Biomedical Engineering) and William Levine (Orthopaedic Surgery) have developed a synthetic polymer graft for rotator cuff repair. Their novel device mimics the fiber alignment and mineral distribution of native tissue at the insertion site, permitting true osteointegration of the graft at the tendon-to-bone interface. The safety and efficacy of the device is being evaluated in preclinical studies.
  • Principals: Samuel Sia, PhD and Jessica Justman, MD
    Title:  Point-of-Care Test for Rapid Diagnosis of MRSA
    Dr. Samuel Sia (Biomedical Engineering) has developed a handheld, nucleic-acid based diagnostic device that can be operated with minimal training, requires no sample preparation, and delivers results in about 45 minutes.  With Dr. Jessica Justman (Epidemiology), Dr. Sia will be evaluating feasibility of the platform to render rapid diagnoses for infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA.
  • Principals: Binsheng Zhao, PhD and Lawrence Schwartz, MD
    Title:  Evaluating Tumor Response to Cancer Therapy
    Drs. Binsheng Zhao (Radiology) and Lawrence Schwartz (Radiology) are developing CT and MRI software to accurately measure subtle changes in tumor volume and density. Ultimately, their technology will enable doctors to better gauge tumor responses to specific cancer treatments.  The algorithms are being optimized and converted into suitable formats for rapid integration with commercial imaging systems.
  • Principals: Henry Spotnitz, MD and Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, PhD
    Title:  Surgical Tools to Facilitate Cardiothoracic Device Insertion
    Drs. Henry Spotnitz (Surgery) and Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic (Biomedical Engineering) are developing access tools to facilitate cardiac pacemaker, defibrillator, and lead insertion. Using these novel introducers, the team expects to significantly reduce procedure time, as well as complication and failure rates. The team is first pursuing optimization of their access devices for coronary sinus lead placement.

Each team includes a faculty member of Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science with an affiliation to the Department of Biomedical Engineering and a clinical practitioner from Columbia University Medical Center whose job responsibilities directly impact patient care or the management of patient care. The call for proposals went out in December 2011, and 10 teams from a total of 38 were selected to present their ideas orally to the Coulter Program Oversight Committee this past June.

“The Columbia-Coulter Partnership is a fantastic program that combines world-class expertise in our engineering school with state-of-the-art medical research at Columbia’s Medical School,” notes Donald Goldfarb, Interim Dean of The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science.

“I am delighted with the growing collaboration between our two schools,” says Lee Goldman, M.D., Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and Executive Vice President of Columbia University. “The worlds of biomedical engineering and clinical medicine are drawing ever closer, and Columbia is at the forefront of that trend.”

The CCTRP provides mentoring, project management, and funding to promising translational projects with the goal of moving innovative technologies to clinical application through commercialization. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to develop health care solutions that address unmet or underserved clinical needs and lead to improvements in patient care.

“It is wonderful to partner with Coulter on these translational research projects,” says Michael Purdy, Executive Vice President for Research. “This collaboration is helping us to harness the best technologies and make them available to patients as soon as possible.”

The Columbia-Coulter Translational Research Partnership will help fund projects with the highest chances of achieving a successful outcome, defined by the Foundation as a license of the technology to a commercial partner with the resources and expertise to bring the technology to market. The program, which focuses exclusively on the commercialization of medical devices, diagnostics, and healthcare IT, will jump start the translation and development of biomedical technologies arising from engineering-clinical collaborations at Columbia.

The Coulter program at Columbia is led by the Department of Biomedical Engineering (Andrew Laine, Ph.D., Department Chair, and Donna See, Coulter Program Director), in close collaboration with Columbia Technology Ventures (Orin Herskowitz, Executive Director and Vice President of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer), the Departments of Surgery (Dennis Fowler, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical P.I.), Orthopedic Surgery (William Levine, M.D., Clinical Liaison), and Radiology (Chaitan Divgi, M.D., Clinical Liaison) at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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