By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
The StARTup Studio at the University of Texas at Austin gives professor led companies a chance to showcase their research and its applications.
Last Wednesday night, three groups of professors presented their startups at the monthly invitation-only gathering in a conference room in the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall.
“It’s our job to encourage students and professors to start companies,” said Bob Metcalfe, professor of Innovation and Murchinson Fellow of Free Enterprise in the Cockrell School of Engineering.
Metcalfe is the director of the Innovation Center. Louise Epstein is the managing director and UT Professor Steve Nichols, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Center, is also part of the center. The Innovation Center sponsors the monthly meetings along with the Office of Technology Commercialization at UT. The Austin Chamber of Commerce buys dinner and WeWork supplies the wine at the events.
Each professor led group pitches for 15 minutes, followed by about 15 minutes of questions and answers. Faculty, students, investors and other invited guests attend the events. This time, two representatives from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico attended. The company does $3 billion worth of research annually.
First up, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Rylander and Dr. Yvette Williams Brown, assistant professor with the Dell Medical School, presented a startup so early in its development it doesn’t yet have a name. It is a post-partum medical device for women to attach an Intrauterine Device, known as an IUD birth control device, to their uterus after giving birth.
The problem exists because 30 percent of IUDs placed in the uterus of women after they give birth are expelled. The UT medical device, which has a patent pending, would insure the IUD stays in place by attaching it to the uterus.
It addresses the real problem of patients who are most high risk at having unintended pregnancies, Dr. Brown said.
“There is definitely a need there,” she said.
Mistimed or unintended pregnancies account for half of the pregnancies in the U.S. every year, Dr. Brown said. In the U.S., 60 million teenagers get pregnant annually. The unintended pregnancies result in $12 billion in costs annually associated with providing resources for people who don’t have the resources to take care of a baby, Dr. Brown said.
An IUD is a long acting, reversible contraceptive device with 99 percent effectiveness, Dr. Brown said.
UT is working on developing a prototype of the inserter for the device, Rylander said. It is also looking at commercializing the technology through a licensing deal with a company like Bayer or Medtronic, which make IUDs, he said.
Next up, Professor of Biomedical Engineering Tom Milner presented a new microscope developed at UT. The microscope, developed with Martin Poenie, associate professor in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, provides a new way to view cells, viruses and other structures so researchers can find new treatments for cancer and other diseases. The resolution on the microscope is so great it allows researchers to see viruses in living cells.
During the demonstration, Poenie showed a movie of some of the things the microscope has been able to detect.
“We see lots of dynamics going on in the cell,” Poenie said. The activities and organelles aren’t visible with a regular light microscope, he said.
The microscope uses polarized light images that can show the molecular structure of things in a living cell. The group presented last year at the StARTup Studio, but at that time they had an attachment to an existing microscope. They have since created a standalone microscope using the technology. They have one patent filed on the device and another in the works.
The group is looking at setting up a service center at UT where researchers could use the microscope. They are also looking at licensing the technology to other companies.
The last presenter, Jenny Jiang, professor of Biomedical Engineering, presented a new company, ImmuDx, which uses high-throughput sequencing with single cell analysis to detect cancer and other diseases and to monitor the immune system.
“We can detect one cancer cell in one million regular cells,” Jiang said.
ImmuDx’s technology can provide early detection of cancer or signs of a relapse quicker and easier than conventional methods. The research that led to the company has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Health.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct ImmuDx’s name.