By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) recently announced that it had executed a licensing agreement with Meridian Bioscience, Inc. for what UTRF described as an “innovative disease detection technology.”
While a licensing agreement itself is not novel, one that could help expedite the detection of infectious diseases was intriguing, particularly at a time when the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was capturing so much of the daily news cycle.
More important, however, was the “backstory” – how two researchers working independently found each other, what is involved in actually advancing a life science technology, and how a simple investment of a few thousand dollars at the right time can make a major difference.
So, we decided to spend time better understanding the research work that started a decade ago and will take another few years before the technology is in the marketplace.
The story starts with the two faculty members, both located in Knoxville but in totally different disciplines and literally about as far apart, distance wise, as they could be.
Shigetoshi Eda is an Associate Professor in the Center for Wildlife Health within the Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries that is part of the Institute of Agriculture. Jayne Wu is also an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in the College of Engineering on the Knoxville campus.
Those who know the campus geography can appreciate the different locations. Wu’s office is in the new Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building next to the World’s Fair site. Eda is based in the Plant Biotechnology Building on the Institute of Agriculture campus, paralleling the Third Creek Greenway and not too far from the new University Commons.
In fact, there was a symbolic barrier – railroad tracks along Third Creek – that impeded collaboration for years until a bridge was constructed in the last decade to connect the main and agricultural campuses.
Yet, these two foreign-born researchers – Wu is Chinese, Eda Japanese – were introduced in 2009 and quickly found their work was complementary. Some two years later, they were working with Maha Krishnamurthy, a new addition to the UTRF team, and the alliance was sealed three years later with the agreement with Meridian Bioscience.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? There’s much more to the story.
NEXT: Let’s meet the two researchers.