Students peddle tech invention [Albuquerque Journal, N.M.]By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
July 09--It's a match made in academia. Two University of New Mexico engineers have created technology to instantly screen patients for infectious diseases, and two students are helping the inventors take the new medical device to market.
Harry Pappas, a doctoral student of nanoscience and microsystems, and MBA graduate Joaquin Duran formed a new company, PD Laboratories, after touting the engineers' invention this spring in the Anderson School of Management's seventh annual technology business plan competition.
The students didn't win. But Pappas said they achieved much more than prize money, including hands-on mentoring from businesspeople and venture capitalists to develop a business plan and marketing strategy, plus a network of contacts with potential funders.
"The competition got us in front of professional investors," Pappas said. "It gave us a lot of exposure."
The students are now working to raise a $1 million seed capital here and in Spain, where Duran is from, to build a first prototype for the medical diagnostics device. The engineers will work with the company as science advisers to further develop the technology. They hope it eventually will be sold as a hand-held screening device for medical professionals in clinics, hospitals and emergency rooms to rapidly determine patients' prognosis for heart, cancer and infectious diseases, said Sang M. Han, one of the inventors.
Tech tools in demand
"These days, most medical professionals are looking for point-of-care diagnostic tools," Han said. "From that perspective, I believe there's a clear market for this technology."
The student-professor partnership was not serendipitous. Rather, it's a central goal of the university's business competition, and of a new Professional Science Master's program that UNM launched in 2010 to teach science students business skills to help move innovative research from lab to market.
"We're trying to encourage students to start businesses to commercialize new technologies," said Sul Kassicieh, management professor and economic development chair at the Anderson School.
To do that, Anderson and UNM's School of Engineering partnered to develop a program that allows students of nanoscience and microsystems to also learn business skills, such as finance, marketing and management, said Kevin Malloy, an astronomy and physics professor who helped launch the Professional Science Master's program.
The National Science Foundation provided a threeyear, $700,000 grant in 2010 to get it started.
"It was an externally sponsored pilot project, but we're trying hard now to make it a more permanent part of UNM," Malloy said. "We've graduated 19 students so far, and we have another cohort of six students who will start this summer."
Nearly all students in the program have participated in Anderson's annual technology business competition.
"We have a whole slew of students who are jazzed now about using New Mexico technologies to start new companies," Malloy said.
Business students not enrolled in the Professional Science Master's program also participate in the competition, and many of them have turned their business plans into new companies, Kassicieh said.
"Starting a company is just a first step in a long journey that's fraught with problems and issues," Kassicieh said. "But now we have students who know how to navigate the process, and hopefully they will continue down those paths."
Pappas earned a Professional Science Master's degree this spring from UNM. He teamed up with Duran in the business plan competition, paving the way for launch of PD Laboratories when the competition ended.
Their technology, which must still be developed into a commercial product, relies on a two-step process for biomarker detection, or molecular diagnostics. First, it separates targeted molecules, or antigens, out of blood samples, and then it screens them with lasers to determine the presence of infectious disease.
Han and a group of engineers developed and patented the first step, which pushes blood samples through "nano channels" more than 1,000 times smaller than a human hair to separate out the targeted proteins that indicate infectious disease.
Electrical engineering professor Mani Hossein-Zadeh helped Han combine those nano channels with laser-screening technology on a single chip to conduct both processes together.
The technologies themselves are not new, but combining them into a single process is, Pappas said. And unlike other handheld diagnostic devices that only screen one protein at a time, PD Laboratories' technology can screen for multiple infectious diseases simultaneously, with results in under 60 seconds.
The partners are seeking seed funding to build a prototype of the combined technology, which they will sell to research laboratories to start generating revenue. After that, they'll seek about $3 million in venture funding to incorporate the diagnostic chip into a hand-held device to be used by medical professionals at point of care, Pappas said.
Pappas and Duran have obtained an option to license the technology from the Science and Technology Corp., UNM's technologytransfer division. Learning business
Students plan, create new firms. PAGE 6
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