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June 19, 2018

Higher Education/Business Partnerships

Making Connections

Business partners play a key role in university research.

Barbara Miracle | 8/1/2004
In Florida and elsewhere, the vast majority of outside funding for university research comes from the federal government. But when it comes to putting the research to work in the marketplace, private industry is the driving force.

In 2003, public and private sector investments in research at 13 major Florida public and private universities totaled more than $1.3 billion, according to a study by the Technology Transfer Office at Florida State University. Of that total, $149 million, or 11%, came from businesses.

Income from 236 licensing agreements brought in an additional $56.8 million in the same year.

The challenge for universities working with industry partners is to make sure that the integrity of the research or curriculum remains high. "If industry funds research, it has to be unconditional," says Susan Mazer, president of a Nevada company, Healing Healthcare Systems, that has licensed research from FSU.

The bottom line is that if there is even the hint that research was refocused specifically to help make the business's product more marketable, that can damage both the academic institution and the industry.

Here are a few partnerships that are working for both the university and the business.

University of South Florida
Targeting Toxins

When anthrax-laced envelopes began appearing in postal facilities and newsrooms in late 2001, scientific researchers raced to identify the biological agent. The problem is that analysis of a substance believed to be anthrax, ricin or other toxins can take hours or even days and must be done by highly trained professionals. The same holds true for food-borne bacteria such as E. coli.

Dr. Daniel Lim at the University of South Florida's Center for Biological Defense, working in conjunction with three private companies, is trying to remedy those problems using biosensors. It allows quick tests that can be done by professionals with limited training. "We want to move many of these tests into the field," he says.

This is how it works: The researcher puts a sample of the toxin on a waveguide inside a microcassette. A specific antibody that will detect the toxin is added. The cassette is inserted into a biosensor detection device, which resembles a shoebox. A laser is turned on to detect the toxin, which, if present, lights up or appears as a dark spot. The sample can be tested for a number of different toxins, bacteria and viruses at the same time. "With the biosensors we're using, you can detect six, seven, eight types of agents in several samples," says Lim.

The technology could be used by businesses that might be subject to biological attacks, public utilities, meatpacking companies and fast-food restaurants, among others.

Some of the funding for Lim's tests comes from subcontracts from the biosensor hardware makers. The hardware, originally developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, has been licensed by Largo-based Constellation Technology, Monroe, Wash.-based Research International and Rockville, Md.-based Creatv MicroTech.

"We have subcontracted various work with USF," says Sal Barone, director of programs for Constellation Technology. In July 2003, Constellation, which makes the array biosensor hardware, won a five-year contract with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency for nuclear, chemical and biological detection and analysis.

The cost of the biosensor hardware, which ranges from $35,000 for Constellation Technology's array biosensor to $47,000 for Research International's Raptor device, has limited the rollout of the new technology. But a Japanese company has sublicensed the Raptor and plans to mass-produce it, which would lower the cost. "There is the potential for the university to benefit," says Lim.

Florida Atlantic University
Exploring the Seas

Florida Atlantic University professor Steven G. Schock has been conducting acoustic imaging and sonar research for more than 15 years. His latest project, chirp sonar, is a digital, wideband FM sonar that is towed just above the ocean floor. It gets its name from the sound it makes, similar to a bird's chirp. The sonar device receives an echo reflected off of the buried target.

The U.S. military, which has funded Schock's research through the Office of Naval Research, is interested in using the technology to locate underwater buried mines. "Traditionally, they have used dolphins," says Schock. Chirp sonar is a more exacting way to find mines, which can be difficult to locate because of shifting ocean currents and the migrating waves of sand along the ocean bottom.

Massachusetts-based EdgeTech, a maker of marine instruments as well as devices that measure moisture and humidity, wants to use chirp sonar for commercial application. "There is a need to identify where buried pipes and cables are," says EdgeTech President Rick Jablonski.

The company has worked with FAU's Department of Ocean Engineering for a decade, and 2 1/2 years ago, EdgeTech licensed the chirp sonar device to find buried objects. Under two separate licensing agreements, EdgeTech has paid FAU almost $15,000.

Schock's relationship with EdgeTech goes beyond licensing agreements. He previously served as a consultant to the company and has hired an EdgeTech programmer for his project. Asked about EdgeTech's involvement in his research, however, Schock makes it clear that he is in charge. "I direct the research," he says. "EdgeTech has been fortunate to be the beneficiary of this."

Florida State University
Babies Learning the Basics

Florida State University music therapy professor Jayne Standley's work on audio feedback technology for newborn babies attracted the attention of Reno, Nev., musicians Susan Mazer and Dallas Smith more than 17 years ago.

Today, Mazer and Smith own Healing Healthcare Systems. Their company and its distribution partner, Ohmeda Medical, a division of G.E. Medical, are working with Florida State University to commercialize Standley's work on what is known as a pacifier activated lullaby, or PAL.

Standley's research shows that a pacifier fitted with a device that activates recorded music teaches premature infants the sucking behavior that comes naturally to older infants. Continuing studies are looking at the effectiveness of using PAL to increase feeding, again for premature infants.

"Our goal for the product is to move it into clinical practice," says Mazer. FSU provided $25,000 in seed funding and, says Mazer, "we matched it more than 20 times."

Nova Southeastern University / FAU
Nursing for the Future

The rising cost of health insurance is a key health concern for aging Baby Boomers. But the shortage of nurses in Florida and elsewhere may become an even bigger issue over the next few years. The numbers are sobering: Florida ranks 31st in the number of registered nurses per 100,000 population, according to the Florida Hospital Association. Between 2002 and 2010, the state will need more than 70,000 additional RNs, according to the Florida Center for Nursing.

To help increase the pool of new RNs, Tenet Healthcare Foundation recently awarded $2.8 million in grants to five schools, including $547,740 to Florida Atlantic University. Tenet South Florida, a separate operating company, gave $341,050 to Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

At Nova, the money will fund an entry-level bachelor of science program that will admit 37 students this fall and up to 96 for the year. Tenet hospitals will be used for clinical rotations and the semester-long practicum, says Dr. Diane Whitehead, chairman of the department of nursing at Nova.

Tenet Foundation's grant to FAU will fund a mid-career program that will help working professionals transition to a career in nursing. "We love these programs because they bring different types of individuals into the profession," says Lauren Arnold, vice president of nursing at Tenet Healthcare.

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