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Researchers Win Funding to Commercialize Discoveries

Posted: July 27, 2015

The College of Agricultural Sciences’ Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program awarded $300,000 among four Research Applications for Innovation Grants — known as RAIN grants — in July to provide financial support to help researchers within the college realize the commercial potential of their work.
Jingxuan Yang, Ph.D., a visiting scholar in Dr. Jeffrey Catchmark's lab, shows how a newly developed biomedical foam has just the right amount of squish. The E&I Program awarded $75,000 to help commercialize the foam.

Jingxuan Yang, Ph.D., a visiting scholar in Dr. Jeffrey Catchmark's lab, shows how a newly developed biomedical foam has just the right amount of squish. The E&I Program awarded $75,000 to help commercialize the foam.

A biodegradable version of plastic film in packaging, a mushroom that stays fresh longer, a biomedical foam for wounds and a test to help dairy farmers be more profitable all won grants of $75,000 each to help them become viable products.

The College of Agricultural Sciences' Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program awarded the four Research Applications for Innovation Grants -- known as RAIN grants -- in July to provide financial support to help researchers within the college realize the commercial potential of their work.

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program promotes innovation and economic development by encouraging the transfer of technologies in the agricultural sciences to existing and start-up companies.

"We are pleased that faculty continue to bring research forward that has the potential for commercialization," said Gary A. Thompson, the college's associate dean for research and graduate education. "This is exactly what the RAIN grant program was designed to encourage. Four projects were selected from a very competitive pool highlighting the potential to advance economic development through research in our college."

Investigators receiving RAIN grants will begin their work immediately and are responsible for providing milestone updates over the next year.

RAIN Grant Award Winners

Biodegradable film

Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is the principal investigator on an environmentally friendly coating to replace petroleum-based coatings on food packaging and also the co-principal investigator on a second RAIN grant project to commercialize a bioabsorbable foam to stop bleeding of wounds.

"All the products are based on food materials. Everything is not only sustainable, compostable, and manufactured in an ecologically friendly manner, but it's even edible," said Catchmark. "My group uses food chemistry to solve key social and environmental problems -- like package-based pollution."

Catchmark's group worked with blends of low-cost food polysaccharides -- the form in which most natural carbohydrates occur -- in processing methods that could be used on a large scale. They developed a production process for a material with surface particles that stitch together when they are dehydrated to form an insoluble, solid-like barrier. This patent-pending film can replace plastic coatings in food packaging like pizza boxes, paperboard, and disposable plates and cups.

Graduate student Kai Chi tests the ability of various thicknesses of a biodegradable coating to prevent oil from seeping through a pizza box. Kai Chi, a Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, works in the lab of Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Jeffrey Catchmark, who has been awarded a RAIN Grant toward commercialization of the coating he discovered.
Graduate student Kai Chi tests the ability of various thicknesses of a biodegradable coating to prevent oil from seeping through a pizza box. Kai Chi, a Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, works in the lab of Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Jeffrey Catchmark, who has been awarded a RAIN Grant toward commercialization of the coating he discovered.

"These barrier coatings have numerous other applications ranging from water-resistant paper to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard to food coatings for keeping taco shells crispy," says Catchmark. "The adhesive properties are useful for packaging as well as other applications such as formaldehyde-free wood fiber composites for construction."

RAIN grant funds will support the building of a pilot production facility in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department so Catchmark's team can work with companies to test the product's commercial viability.

Biomedical foam

Catchmark's group has worked with trauma surgeons in the Department of Surgery of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center/College of Medicine to develop a starch-based foam to help stop bleeding and promote clotting and healing of wounds ranging from surface cuts to deep body wounds.

The project was awarded $75,000, jointly from the College of Ag Sciences and the College of Medicine. The co-Principal Investigator is Scott Armen, Chief, Division of Trauma, Acute Care, & Critical Care Surgery, Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.

The soft, resilient foam may also be used during surgery to absorb blood and body fluids. It expands to put pressure on a wound and conforms to the wound's shape. Once applied, the foam's surface transitions to a gel that promotes healing. The foam can then be left inside the body because it is made of bio-absorbable materials. A patent is pending on the foam.

The new foam product was originally conceived as a replacement for Styrofoam packaging until it exhibited unique properties well-suited to biomedical applications. RAIN grant funds will help the team to develop and demonstrate an optimized composition and production process, one of the next steps to commercializing it.

Diagnostic Test to Improve Dairy Profitability

In a typical dairy farming operation, the goal is for each cow in the herd to become pregnant and calve once a year. However, only about 35 percent of cows will successfully conceive following an insemination and farmers typically must wait at least 30 days to test to find out whether insemination successfully led to conception. There is no early test for pregnancy status in cows, like the tests available for humans.

Professor of Reproductive Physiology Troy Ott has developed and patented a diagnostic test to tell dairy farmers whether an insemination failed by 18 days, instead of 30, saving farmers valuable time and money.

It is not a pregnancy test, Ott notes, as a significant number of pregnancies detected 18 days after insemination will fail by 45 days.

Rather, the test will show if the cow has not conceived, known in the dairy industry as "open."

"If we can detect those open cows and submit them for re-insemination sooner we can save farmers money and ensure that dairies can maintain that yearly calving interval," says Ott. The technology is now patented in nine countries.

Cows that do not conceive beyond about 100 days from their last calving costs farmers money, increasing from about $1 a day at 100 days up to $2.50 - $3 a day by 150 days after calving. Because they are not pregnant, they are also at greater risk for being culled from the herd.

The patented test allows farmers to shorten the time between insemination attempts, and therefore shortens the total time spent and total cost between pregnancies. The RAIN grant will fund research to validate the diagnostic test for use in dairy cattle in preparation for commercialization, says Ott.

Anti-browning mushroom

Yinong Yang, associate professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, developed an anti-browning mushroom with an extended shelf life. Yang is seeking a patent.

About RAIN Grants

Since 2013, the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program has awarded a total of $625,000 in RAIN Grant funding to 13 projects that show commercial promise.

Researchers who are prepared to take the next steps to transition their research-generated technologies to commercialization compete for RAIN funds.

For the first time this year, the Penn State Research Foundation contributed $25,000 to each grant, in a two-to-one match, through its Fund for Innovation.

"The mission of the fund is to promote commercialization of the new ideas and discoveries generated by our research programs," said Peter Linder, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Office of the Vice President for Research.

"The fund is another indication of Penn State's renewed commitment to translating and implementing our most innovative findings. Commercializing promising ideas, creating new companies and new jobs, increases the already sizeable positive impact that Penn State has on the economy of Pennsylvania."

About the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program

The College of Agricultural Sciences Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program is committed to fostering technology development and bringing research to the marketplace through the transfer of technologies to existing and start-up companies. The program sparks and mentors entrepreneurs and innovators in the food and agriculture sectors, among undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.

Contact

Dan Azzara
Director Entrepreneurship & Innovation, College of Agricultural Sciences

814-863-2847