Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
September 30, 2019 | Tom Ballard

“Scipreneur Challenge” team assignments announced, work well underway

Team assignments have been announced for the inaugural “Scipreneur Challenge” hosted by the Knoxville Chapter of Life Science Tennessee’s Academic Alliance.

As noted in this recent article, the cohort held its kick-off event September 5 where the college students learned about the technologies made available by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. The students stated their preferences and assignments were made September 12.

Between now and the finale presentations on November 7, the students will develop their ideas on the best strategies to start and grow a viable business for their assigned technology. They are also expected to participate in the upcoming “I-Corps South” two-week customer discovery series that starts next week.

Those technologies and other details are as follows:

  • ProFECT Plus – NonCationic-Lipid Nanoparticles for siRNA Encapsulation and Delivery. It is described this way: “Liposome siRNA Encapsulation (LSE) is a liposome assembly technique to enhance siRNA cargo loading into PEGylated neutral liposomes for improved biocompatibility and pharmacokinetics. This results in liposomal nanocarriers with efficient nucleic acid encapsulation and enhanced cellular association, while minimizing the cytotoxic effects associated with cationic-mediated transfection. LSE is a quick, easy, reproducible, scalable method for nanoparticle-mediated applied transfection.” Team members are Megan Cannon, Peibo Li and Lahai Wicks, and their mentor is Denise Bash with Lockwood.
  • Integration of Photosystem I nano discs into Biohybrid Solar Devices for the Sustainable Production of Electricity. It is described as follows:Photosynthetic protein complexes such as photosystem I reaction center convert photonics energy into electrical energy at an internal quantum efficiency approaching 100% in nature. When we remove these proteins from their native membrane environments using canonical methods, we lose approximately 99% of this inherent efficiency. Recently, advances in a novel extraction method to produce native nanodiscs (particles which preserve the proximal lipid environment) have shown increased, more native-like efficiency in vitro. These photosynthetic complexes can be immobilized on electrode surfaces, to create so-called Biohybrid Solar Devices, which have the ability to convert sunlight to electricity. This approach steps around the issues of resource limitation, and significantly reduces production cost compared to traditional silicon based photovoltaic technology.” Team members are Nate Brady, Matt Tuttle and Debalina Acharyya, and their mentor is Jeff Beegle of mobius.
  • Rapid Native Single Cell Mass Spectrometry. It is described as follows: “Single cell metabolomic and lipidomic information is crucial when studying disease progression at the cellular level. Cells are naturally heterogeneous yet most analytical technologies measure average cellular chemistry or require molecular probes to investigate the chemistry in a single cell, the latter of which may have unforeseen consequences on cellular chemistry. This invention describes an innovative methodology for rapid, in situ molecular characterization of single cells suspended in their native media. This invention enables quantitative, targeted and/or untargeted chemical analysis of single cells without extensive sample preparation procedures while being able to measure single cells with high throughput. Current technologies require an involved preparation procedure and use of matrix matched standards to quantitate cellular metabolites. This invention provides a simple method for absolute determination of the concentration of target analyte(s) within a single cell. Further, many single cell analysis techniques trade chemical coverage for sampling throughput. This invention will provide untargeted mass spectrometric analysis of single cells with the throughput necessary to obtain statistics of cellular populations.” Team members are Spiridon Papoulis and Katherine Moccia, and their mentor is Dan Close of 490 BioTech.
  • Bacterial Quantitative Trait-Locus Mapping. Here’s how the invention is described: “One of the key choices in a metabolic engineering project is the identification of a suitable host strain. Even within a given species, variations between lineages can have significant, unpredictable effects on productivity. We have developed a technique to generate and characterize a panel of hybrid bacteria to serve as hosts for engineered metabolic pathways. After introducing an engineered pathway and screening a limited panel of strains, we can identify genetic loci throughout the genome that affect pathway productivity. By combining beneficial alleles, we can rapidly build engineered hosts that increase pathway output. Team members are Alex Ruzicka and Rachel Harrison, and their mentor is Steve Ripp of 490 BioTech and Eric Mayer of EDP BioTech.
  • NanoFermentation:  Nanoparticles from Bacteria. The technology is described this way: “Nanoparticles having metal non-oxide compositions (i.e., “semiconductor” or “quantum dot” nanoparticles) are increasingly being used in numerous emerging applications. Some of these applications include electronics (e.g., transistors and diode lasers), LED displays, photovoltaics (e.g., solar cells), and medical imaging. Quantum dot nanoparticles are also being investigated as powerful new computer processing elements (i.e., qubits). Semiconductor nanoparticles often possess a metal chalcogenide composition, such as CdSe and ZnS.  The ORNL technology offers a system for producing pure semiconductor nanoparticles on a commercial (i.e., bulk) scale at a non-prohibitive cost. This system uses selected thermophilic bacteria cultured with suitable reducible metals in the presence of an electron donor unter culture conditions that reduce at least one metal to form a doped crystal or mixed oxide composition. The bacteria forms nanoparticles outside the cell, allowing easy recovery. Selection of metals depends on the redox potentials of the reducing agents added to the culture for the biomineralization.” Team members are Joseph Daws and Allison Campbell; their mentor is Tony Bova of mobius.

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