Prof. Vunjak-Novakovic Wins BioAccelerate NYC Prize

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia Engineering School, is one of five winners of this year’s BioAccelerate NYC Prize for her breakthrough research for those suffering the physical and psychological scars of a damaged jaw. Her project involves growing bone within a laboratory and using it to re-build the bones of the patient’s head and face.
 
The BioAccelerate NYC Prize was announced this week by the Partnership for New York City and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Now in its second year, the prize awards critical funding to researchers so that they can complete work on healthcare and biomedical products that will ultimately be brought to market. The winning scientists, based in New York City, will each receive $250,000.
 
“I am delighted to receive the BioAccelerate award — it is a wonderful opportunity to move our facial reconstruction technology forward, towards human applications,” said Vunjak-Novakovic, at left. “For more than a decade, we have been working on tissue engineering of human bone by designing environments that can guide regeneration of complex bone defects. The support of NIH has been instrumental in our gaining insights into the many factors needed to ‘instruct’ the cells to make functional bone, develop technology for growing anatomically shaped pieces of fully viable bone, and test engineered bone in small models. Our team is now ready to test personalized living human bone grafts for facial reconstruction in models closer to a clinical setting and so this award comes at a perfect time.”
 
Fifty-five applications were submitted from 12 NYC-based universities and research institutions. The five winners were selected after a competitive process in which all applicants were vetted by venture capitalists and senior executives from the life science industry. In addition to funding, the program pairs each finalist with an entrepreneur mentor who provides advice on the commercial issues, including strategy, business planning, and funding. Dr Vunjak-Novakovic was mentored by Melanie Rolli of Novartis and Alan Roemer of Trout Group.
 
“We are very pleased that one of Columbia Engineering’s preeminent researchers has won this significant prize,” said Feniosky Peña-Mora, Dean of The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. “We are proud of the innovative work that goes on at our School, and happy to see Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic’s work recognized by the City. It will be  thrilling  to see her promising new technology advance from the lab to the marketplace.”
 
The New York City Investment Fund (NYCIF), the Partnership’s economic development arm, organized and provided the funding for the project. NYCEDC is leading the City’s efforts to make the city a world class biotech hub. For more information about the BioAccelerate NYC Prize and this year’s winners, visit www.bioaccelerate.org.
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