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Category Archives: Illinois Stem Cells

Researchers develop fast COVID-19 test using atom-thick sheets of graphene – FierceBiotech

Posted: June 23, 2021 at 2:22 am

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago have potentially found a new method of passively detecting the coronavirus using sheets of graphene, one of the thinnest and strongest materials on the planet.

Their premise is rather straightforward: First, the researchers studded the graphene surface with antibodies designed to bind to the coronaviruss spike protein. Whenever they connect, strong molecular vibrations ripple through the sheet, delivering a COVID-19 signal to a super-sensitive motion detector in less than five minutes.

We have been developing graphene sensors for many years. In the past, we have built detectors for cancer cells and ALS, said Vikas Berry, Ph.D., professor and head of chemical engineering at the UIC College of Engineering and senior author of the paper published in the journal ACS Nano. It is hard to imagine a more pressing application than to help stem the spread of the current pandemic.

RELATED: NIH awards $107M for 'radical' COVID-19 testing tech aimed at everyday life

The researchers tested their graphene sheetsa Nobel Prize-winning material made of a single layer of carbon molecules and more than 1,000 times thinner than a piece of paperwith artificial saliva samples both positive and negative for COVID-19 as well as other coronaviruses such as the bug behind Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.

The changes in the graphenes vibrations in the presence of COVID-19, optically measured by a Raman spectrometer, proved to be fast, accurate and relatively cheap to collect, minus the cost of the sensor itself.

RELATED: Graphene-based sensor could help ward off asthma attacks

Graphene is just one atom thick, so a molecule on its surface is relatively enormous and can produce a specific change in its electronic energy, Berry said in a statement.

With its unique properties, the researchers say graphene could provide a platform that can be tuned to other COVID variants as well as other diagnostic applications.

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Researchers develop graphene-based sensors that detect COVID-19 quickly and efficiently – Graphene-Info

Posted: at 2:22 am

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) have used sheets of graphene to rapidly detect COVID-19 in laboratory experiments, an advance that could potentially detect variants of the virus.

The white rectangle represents the substrate with graphene functionalized with SARS-CoV-2 antibody (shown in yellow). When the graphene detector interacts with the virus spike protein in a COVID-positive sample, its atomic vibration frequency changes.

According to UIC, the researchers combined sheets of graphene with an antibody designed to target the spike protein on the coronavirus. They then measured the atomic-level vibrations of these graphene sheets when exposed to COVID-positive and COVID-negative samples in artificial saliva. The sheets were also tested in the presence of other viruses, such as Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The UIC researchers found that the vibrations of the antibody-coupled graphene sheet changed when treated with a COVID-positive sample, but not when treated with a COVID-negative sample or with other coronaviruses. Vibrational changes measured with a Raman spectrometer were reportedly evident in under five minutes.

We have been developing graphene sensors for many years. In the past, we have built detectors for cancer cells and ALS. It is hard to imagine a more pressing application than to help stem the spread of the current pandemic, said Vikas Berry, professor and head of chemical engineering at the UIC College of Engineering and senior author of the paper. There is a clear need in society for better ways to quickly and accurately detect COVID and its variants, and this research has the potential to make a real difference. The modified sensor is highly sensitive and selective for COVID, and it is fast and inexpensive.

This project has been an amazingly novel response to the need and demand for detection of viruses, quickly and accurately, said study co-author Garrett Lindemann, a researcher with Carbon Advanced Materials and Products, or CAMP. The development of this technology as a clinical testing device has many advantages over the currently deployed and used tests.

Carbon atoms in graphene are bound by chemical bonds whose elasticity and movement can produce resonant vibrations (phonons), which can be measured very accurately. When a molecule such as a SARS-CoV-2 molecule interacts with graphene, it changes these resonant vibrations in a very specific and quantifiable way.

Graphene is just one atom thick, so a molecule on its surface is relatively enormous and can produce a specific change in its electronic energy, Berry said. In this experiment, we modified graphene with an antibody and, in essence, calibrated it to react only with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Using this method, graphene could similarly be used to detect COVID-19 variants.

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From Roaches To Medical Emergencies, Illinois Inmates Say Theres Nobody That We Can Really Go To For Help – WBEZ

Posted: December 4, 2020 at 11:53 am

This article was produced in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up for ProPublicas Big Story newsletter to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Randy Liebich curled up in a ball on his bed inside Stateville prison, about an hour outside Chicago. It was June 2010, and hed spent the night in a cold sweat, excruciating pain radiating from his back. For months, hed been filing complaints with prison officials about the lack of medical care. But the forms, known as grievances, got him nowhere.

One was denied, in part because hed already been to the doctor, and the denial noted hed received acetaminophen pain medication. Another complaint was deemed moot.

Now Liebich was in the worst pain of his life. According to medical records, a kidney stone had made it impossible for him to urinate. The men in nearby cells shouted for help.

Correctional officers took Liebich to the medical office, where, records show, a doctor used a hemostat, a tweezer-like surgical tool, to try to remove the stone through the tip of Liebichs penis. But the procedure failed, leaving the stone intact. About six hours passed that day before Liebich was driven to an outside hospital for emergency surgery.

When Liebich got back to the prison, he filed two more grievances about the poor medical treatment hed received. If staff had addressed his earlier complaints, he wrote, he could have avoided the procedure with the hemostat altogether. But prison officials denied those grievances too.

Liebich filed over a dozen more grievances related to his kidney condition over the next eight years, until a judge threw out his murder conviction in 2018 after finding his lawyers ignored key evidence. Prosecutors later dropped all charges, but Liebich says he still suffers trauma from his experience with the hemostat.

People locked inside prisons rely on grievances to complain if their needs, from health care to sanitation to safety, are unmet. The complaints are among their few means of recourse. But in Illinois, that system is sputtering, with little oversight, leaving prisoners vulnerable to harm, an investigation by WBEZ and ProPublica has found.

The state has paid millions to settle the claims of inmates, some of whom raised concerns early through grievances, only to later suffer serious injuries when authorities denied complaints or failed to act.

In one case, a prisoner at Stateville Correctional Center filed a grievance to complain about roaches crawling over him as he slept. He also said he had extreme pain in his ear and heard constant crackling. But he said his complaints were ignored by prison staff. Two weeks after his grievance, records show medical workers removed a bug from his ear. He later filed a lawsuit, alleging ear pain and hearing loss. The case was settled for $12,500, three and a half years after the first grievance. The state denied wrongdoing.

In another case, a man at Stateville spent months filing grievances and writing letters to prison officials about a protruding bolt near his bunk bed. The warden denied the grievances, because theyd been filed as emergencies, and he disagreed with the classification. Eight months after the prisoners initial complaint, he fell out of his bed and hit his eye on the bolt, resulting in disability and disfigurement, according to a lawsuit he filed. Records show he was treated by a doctor the same day. The state disputed the mans claims in court documents, but the parties agreed to a settlement in which the state paid the inmate $70,000.

In Liebichs case, he filed a lawsuit over the medical treatment he received and alleged that prison staff retaliated against him for complaining. The state denied wrongdoing but agreed to a settlement of $70,000.

The Illinois prison system, which had an average daily population of about 40,000 people last year, is now under federal oversight as part of a legal agreement to improve health care in state prisons. A court-appointed expert found in 2018 that the medical care was so poor that people were needlessly dying.

Because grievances can serve as early warnings for prison administrators about dangerous conditions, experts say tracking the complaints is critical.

But WBEZ and ProPublica found Illinois is faltering. The news organizations requested five years of data from the 15 largest prisons, showing the number of grievances and how they were resolved. Only seven were able to provide information that was complete enough to analyze. Some institutions had an entire year of data missing.

Of the grievances that were reviewed by prison officials, about 5% were decided in part, or in whole, in a prisoners favor. Inmates can appeal to a Department of Corrections review board, but the approval rate there was similar, the WBEZ-ProPublica analysis found.

States have different methods of tracking grievances, and its difficult to compare Illinois system to other jurisdictions, but experts said the findings suggest its not working as it should.

With a rate that low, it just seems like nobody believes in the system, said Dan Pacholke, former administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections and co-author of a book on prison safety. It would certainly be concerning for me as a superintendent of a prison.

Others were more blunt.

What we have here is sort of the fox watching the henhouse, said Jenny Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, an independent citizen group that has monitored Illinois prisons for more than a century.

WBEZ and ProPublica sought an interview with state corrections officials over the course of four months, but the department declined multiple requests. In a written response, it said the approval rate appeared artificially low, in part, because of prolific grievance filers and frivolous complaints. It also noted that many grievances are resolved informally by counselors; about 13% of grievances in the analysis were withdrawn by the inmate before an official review.

Still, in response to a detailed outline of our findings, corrections officials said they were pursuing a number of measures to improve the grievance system, including plans to hire a chief inspector to oversee the statewide system. Officials also said the department would be transitioning to electronic grievances, a move that would make the system more efficient and data easier to track.

The operation of a fair and consistent grievance process is a high priority for the Department, and we are working diligently to improve the current system, the department said in the statement. Through the implementation of significant reforms and an increase in oversight, we can ensure the concerns of men and women in custody are addressed in a timely manner.

Prison watchdog groups and some lawmakers lauded the changes, but they said Illinois system needs a bigger overhaul with more oversight. Some are pushing a proposal to create an ombudsman that would investigate complaints about the department.

Illinois State Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Democrat and former head of the House Restorative Justice Committee, said family members of people in prison regularly call his office asking for help with a grievance. He commended the departments proposed changes but said officials need to make sure that theres a process in place that will allow for the best outcomes for the people making grievances.

You cannot be the judge and the jury and the prosecutor.

In the fall of 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over Attica Correctional Facility in New York to protest abuse and poor living conditions. It was one of the most violent prison standoffs in U.S. history, leaving 43 people dead. Over the next few years, other prison uprisings broke out across the country, as the prison rights movement grew. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice said the lack of grievance systems had probably made these incidents inevitable, because prisoners had no other way to get their needs heard.

Toussaint Losier, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has studied American prisons, said grievance systems emerged in this era to create a safety valve to let off some of the steam that could build up over time. But states also had another incentive. Lawsuits filed by prisoners were clogging the federal court system; by 1974, 1 in 20 civil cases filed in federal court were prison civil rights cases, according to Margo Schlanger, a professor of civil rights law at the University of Michigan and a leading expert on prison litigation. Federal judges called for another venue to evaluate complaints. As one put it, if prisoners had a fair alternative, theyd choose that over the delayed process of the courts.

But even after states created grievance systems, the deluge of lawsuits continued. A study from the early 1980s found people incarcerated at two Illinois prisons thought the states grievance system was wholly institution controlled and rarely yielding favorable or even impartial results.

To stem the tide of lawsuits, Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, in 1996. The legislation made grievances critical by requiring inmates to exhaust the prisons internal grievance system before filing a lawsuit. A co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said it would prevent frivolous and malicious lawsuits filed by prison inmates. Opponents, including then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., argued the bill unwisely limited the courts power to protect the constitutional rights of people behind bars. The results of the law were striking. The number of lawsuits filed per prisoner shrank by more than 50% over the next two decades, according to Schlanger.

But thats not because prisoners problems were suddenly being addressed through grievances. In fact, some experts say the PLRA may have actually made grievance systems worse. After the law passed, some corrections officials raised administrative hurdles for the complaints, and in doing so made it harder to file lawsuits. Schlanger said prison officials in some states threw out grievances for tiny technical violations, like writing in the wrong color ink.

In Illinois, the state Department of Corrections reduced the window of time within which prisoners can file most grievances from six months to 60 days. It also limited outside oversight of appeals, eliminating a rule that required at least one review board member to come from outside the department. The agency did not respond to a question about the changes.

But officials did note that one reason the approval rate of grievances is so low is because prisoners make technical mistakes, like missing a deadline.

There was a huge incentive to make the grievance process as complicated and as impossible to complete properly as they could, said Alan Mills, a lawyer and executive director of the Uptown Peoples Law Center who has spent decades representing prisoners in Illinois.

Instead of protecting prisoners rights, Mills said grievance systems instead work to protect the department and its employees from lawsuits. In 2011, Mills was part of a team that filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing prisoners who werent getting hearing aids or access to interpreters. The plaintiffs argued that they were unable to participate in education programs, stay in contact with loved ones or discuss medical issues with doctors. Mills estimates it took lawyers 18 months to figure out how to exhaust the grievance process so they could move forward with the lawsuit. For example, Mills said, sometimes prison officials would only respond to one issue in a grievance even if a prisoner had listed several issues. This made it unclear if the other issues had been denied, ignored or granted leaving the prisoner unsure if they needed to file additional grievances.

This is 10 extremely qualified, experienced lawyers trying to figure out how to navigate this process. Imagine what somebody who dropped out of sixth grade and is sitting in a jail cell with no resources at all; how they can ever figure out how to make it through that process? Mills said.

The lawsuit later settled with the state agreeing to provide accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners.

In the spring of 2011, officers at Lincoln Correctional Center ordered about 200 women out of their housing unit. Wielding batons and shields, officers marched the prisoners into a gymnasium and conducted a series of strip-searches, according to a lawsuit the women filed in federal court.

The women were then forced to spread their buttocks and vaginas in view of male staff, and officers made derogatory comments about their bodies, according to the lawsuit. The women, who alleged the search constituted cruel and unusual punishment, also said they were forced to remove tampons and bled on themselves while they waited for others to be searched.

A lawyer for the Department of Corrections denied those claims of mistreatment and said the search was necessary to keep the facility safe from contraband. A jury decided against the prisoners, but the women appealed on different constitutional grounds and that case is ongoing.

Dozens of the women said they filed grievances over the strip-search. But as time passed, many didnt get an answer. Later, the nonprofit John Howard Association conducted a monitoring visit to the prison. According to its report, the group said it heard a significant number of consistent, unsolicited, and independent reports about the strip-search and missing grievances. But the group said that when it asked prison administrators about it, they could not locate a single grievance related to the incident. Nevertheless, the nonprofits report said officials there acknowledged problems with the grievance system and said they made changes to improve tracking.

Maggie Burke, a former state corrections official who retired as warden of Logan Correctional Center in 2017, said grievances routinely disappeared. If it was just an occasional my grievance disappeared, I would think that it was someone who was exaggerating, she said, adding, But it happened a lot.

The problem was so bad that when she became the statewide coordinator for women and family services within the department about two years after the strip-search incident she added locked boxes that only she and her assistant could access. That gave prisoners a direct and more secure way to express concerns or send her grievances.

The system is critical, Burke said, because people may act out violently or create other problems when their grievances arent addressed.

Dwaine Coleman said thats what he did while incarcerated at Vienna Correctional Center in 2014 for marijuana possession. He complained of excruciating back pain, and prison records show he had previously been diagnosed with sciatica. But he said a doctor did little more than tell him to eat well and exercise. So he filed a grievance asking to see another doctor.

A month passed before a corrections counselor wrote that the care Coleman was receiving was appropriate, and the grievance went up the chain of command. Two weeks later, he had yet to get a decision from the warden. Desperate to grab the attention of senior prison officials, Coleman tied his prison-issued bed sheet in knots and began flushing it, bit by bit, down the toilet. The water gushed over the bowl, flooding his cell, according to court records.

The grievance system is a joke. So you kind of have to act out to get your needs met, Coleman said in an interview. When you start to act out, there are incident reports that have to be sent all around, and now theres a paper trail and a lot more people are getting involved.

Coleman said his attempts backfired though and tensions between him and the staff continued to escalate. A few days after the toilet incident, Coleman said he got into an argument with a correctional officer during a medical evaluation, according to a lawsuit he filed. On the way back from the health care unit, Coleman alleged, the officer rammed his head into a doorway. A dental record from about two weeks later shows a chipped tooth. During a civil trial, the officer denied assaulting him. But a jury decided in Colemans favor and awarded him $35,000 in punitive damages.

Coleman did eventually get a decision from the warden on his health care grievance three months after he filed it. The complaint was denied, saying the care he received was appropriate.

Few prisoners in Illinois have faith in the grievance system. Just 5% considered it effective, according to a 2019 survey by the John Howard Association, which collected responses from 12,780 prisoners across the state. And only 13% said they felt comfortable filing a grievance.

The biggest reason that people dont feel comfortable is fear of retaliation, said Vollen-Katz, executive director of the watchdog group.

After Liebich filed grievances complaining about the poor medical care hed received for his kidney stone, he said staff began to view him as a nuisance. In January 2011, officers came to his cell and, according to court records, insisted that he give a urine sample for a drug test.

Liebich told the correctional officers that his kidney condition made that difficult. Officers told him that if he didnt urinate in the next two hours hed be sent to the hole, officially known as segregation. Its a part of the facility where prisoners are sent as punishment, infamous for being filthy, full of bugs and vermin. (In fact, the conditions were so bad that officials shut down that section of the prison in 2016, though it was reopened for COVID-19 quarantining this year.) For Liebich, the pressure to provide a urine sample felt immense. So, with minutes left to his deadline, he asked if he could have more time.

The guards refused and took him to segregation, according to prison records. Because staff knew his trouble with urination, he believes the whole incident was meant to punish him for filing grievances.

Liebichs lawyer sent emails to the warden, letting him know about Liebichs medical condition. But according to records provided by the lawyer, the warden responded that Liebich would need to address his problem through the grievance process.

Five days after the drug test incident, Liebich filed a complaint over being sent to segregation. The officer that reviewed his grievance recommended the warden approve it, according to prison records, but the warden disagreed and Liebich remained in segregation. Still, in August 2011, Liebich pressed forward with a lawsuit alleging poor medical treatment and retaliation. In court documents, prison officials agreed that Liebich was sent to segregation for failure to provide a urine sample, but they denied that officers were acting in retaliation.

The state agreed to a settlement of $70,000 in January 2015, four years after Liebich filed his grievance over his punishment.

Civil rights lawyers, former prison administrators and prisoners say the only way more people behind bars will get their concerns addressed is with independent oversight and increased transparency.

Currently, the entire grievance process is overseen by the Corrections Department.

Grievances first go to a counselor who attempts to resolve the complaint. If they cannot, a grievance officer evaluates the case and makes a recommendation to the warden, who renders a decision. If a prisoner is dissatisfied with the response, they can send their complaint to a statewide board that reviews grievance appeals called the Administrative Review Board.

The whole process can be time consuming.

The state Corrections Department would not say if it had any data showing the speed at which prisons resolved grievances. Records, however, suggest that many complaints were reviewed slowly, or not at all. Over a third of appeals were thrown out because the prisoner had already been released or died by the time the review board evaluated them.

Of those that were reviewed, 7% were found partially or wholly in favor of the prisoner. The panel evaluates thousands of grievances a month. Complaints can range from a missing radio to guard abuse.

When youre seeing that many grievances, its easy to go, Yeah. OK. You know, that one I dont really have time for, said Joni Stahlman, former assistant deputy director of the womens division who sat on the Administrative Review Board in the early 2000s. Theres that tricky line of fairness and getting the work done.

Prison advocates point to a more fundamental issue though: While the four members of the board do not work at any individual prison, they are still employed by the Corrections Department and appointed by the director. Sitting on the current board are two members who previously worked clerical jobs within the department and one who formerly worked inside a prison as a correctional counselor. Vollen-Katz, of the John Howard Association, said thats not true independence. We are asking a closed system to police itself, she said.

Vollen-Katz said one step the state could take would be to create a corrections ombudsman who could investigate complaints and find solutions. Mills, the civil rights lawyer, agreed, saying the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice already has such a person who gets copies of all the grievances so that they can track them, find trends, figure out problems, and then bring them to the attention of the department to fix.

An ombudsman in the adult system, he said, would be a huge, huge step forward.

In order for it to be effective, though, the position would need complete autonomy, enforcement capabilities and the power to share information with lawmakers and the public, advocates said. Other states, like New Jersey and Washington, already have a corrections ombudsman, and last year Illinois state lawmakers submitted a bill to create one. But the legislation stalled.

Illinois State Rep. Rita Mayfield, who co-sponsored the ombudsman bill, said she planned to revive the legislation next year. She said one of her central motivations was discovering and fixing problems before they become expensive lawsuits.

What can we do to reduce these losses? What is wrong with the system? What can we correct to better utilize those tax dollars? Mayfield said. The Department of Corrections would not answer questions about its stance on an ombudsman.

Losier, the professor who has studied prisons, said another key change to the grievance system should be more transparency. New York state, for example, issues yearly reports on what types of grievances are filed and how the department handles them. That allows the public and lawmakers to monitor whats happening inside. But Illinois issues no such report.

New Yorks Corrections Department also maintains a database that tracks staff involved in misconduct and abuse claims, so the department can look for patterns. But in Illinois, despite records showing staff misconduct is one of the largest issues for prisoners, the department doesnt track grievances by guard name.

Burke, the former warden, said that having that information, even internally, would be helpful. If we have, you know, 90% of our grievances are on one person, then we know that theres a problem there.

Pacholke, the former administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections, agreed, saying data collection is critical. If youre not tracking it, the next thing you know, something really horrific or tragic can happen, he said.

Neither the Corrections Department nor AFSCME, the union that represents most front-line corrections staff, responded to questions about the potential of tracking complaints about correctional officers.

In Liebichs case, problems within the prison persisted.

In January 2018, after his lawsuit was settled, the staff decided to test him for drugs again, according to discipline records. When he couldnt provide a urine sample, officers sent him back to segregation.

They just went through this with me. They know I have these medical issues, Liebich said in an interview. They know I had a civil suit about it, and they turn around and they did the same thing to me again.

Liebich spent his days in a cramped cell. The prison allowed inmates to leave their cells for mental health groups. Liebich said sessions were held in the former execution area, from when Illinois had the death penalty.

You can literally feel the hairs on your arms and your neck stand up, Liebich said. He felt powerless.

In January 2019, Liebich filed a second lawsuit against the prison over retaliation. Later that year the state agreed to settle and paid him $25,000, but denied wrongdoing.

Today, he said he still has nightmares about his time inside segregation.

Its frightening to think that they can do this to us and get away with it, Liebich said, and theres nobody that we can really go to for help.

WBEZ and ProPublica are investigating oversight in Illinois prisons. Please get in touch with reporter Shannon Heffernan if you have something to share about:

Violence and safety inside Illinois prisons

Staff conduct and oversight

Prisoner discipline

Internal affairs operations

You can reach her via email: or phone: 312-893-2937

Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Email Heffernan at and follow her on Twitter at @shannon_h.

Claire Perlman and Alex Mierjeski contributed research and Agnel Philip contributed data reporting.

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From Roaches To Medical Emergencies, Illinois Inmates Say Theres Nobody That We Can Really Go To For Help - WBEZ

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Get Up to Speed On the State of Eco-Fashion – NEO.LIFE

Posted: September 27, 2020 at 4:58 am

In December 2019, an odd new product hit the headlines. Called FLWRDWN, unlike every other fashion material innovation youve read about that always seem to be years out of reach, the mixture of waste wildflowers, biopolymer, and a patented cellulosic aerogel debuted to the world ready to be worn, encased inside a fashionable nylon puffer coat.

Fashion drops are usually 99.9% hype. But FLWRDWN, which garnered press mentions from Vogue to Wired UK, arguably deserved more. It is natural, plant-based, animal-free, fossil-fuel free, fluffy, and warm. It is a seemingly perfect replacement for what you usually find in puffers: goose down if youre a traditionalist or, if you are the kind to worry about feathers being ripped out of live geese, polyester fill.

FLWRDWN may have solved for the fact that so-called conscious fashion consumers usually have to choose between two unsatisfying modalities: biodegradable natural materials that hurt animals and the environment, or cruelty-free synthetic fabrics that will stick around on Earth until the sun burns out.

Enter the biotech industry, which is racing to grow nature-inspired textiles, leathers, and dyes in the lab. These innovations would supposedly combine the best of both worlds: made-to-order and efficient factory production with plant-based ingredients. The question then becomes: can you actually commercialize these materials to make a tangible difference?

So called natural, i.e., traditional, materialssuch as down, leather, and cottonfeel more eco-friendly, but come with a whole host of messy human, animal, and environmental issues. The alternativesynthetic fibers like nylon, acrylic, polyester, and vegan leathers like polyurethane and PVCare equally if not more reviled by tree-hugging fashionistas. Made from fossil fuels, theyll biodegrade as quickly as any plastic, which is, for all intents and purposes, never.

Fashion brands are tired of being dragged into these very unglamorous and ugly conversations about animal cruelty and toxic chemicals, and they would like to find a solution. The race is on to create a library of carbon-neutral, recyclable, biodegradable, and relatively affordable materials that mimic natures cyclical material flows and diversity, and to produce them in quantities large enough to satisfy the appetites of 8 billion consumers.

For all its trend chasing, until now the fashion industry has been notoriously averse to technological innovation. In the tech industry, you always have companies that are looking two years, five years, 10 years ahead, at what the next product would be and designing the needs of their own production, says Amanda Parkes, the chief innovation officer for Pangaia, the fashion startup behind FLWRDWN. Parkes has worked as a science museum curator, has been a structural engineer for couture fashion, studied wearable tech at MIT, and founded an algae biofuels startup. In other words, she is well qualified to lead fashion into the future. There hasnt been a lot of internal R&D inherent to big fashion brands, she says.

Not so anymore. H&M, as one of the worlds largest fashion brands, has been taking heat for contributing to the 92 million tons (and rising) of fashion that we collectively send to landfills, incinerators, and oceans every year. Sustainable fashion advocates will tell you we should just buy less stuff (which, were doing right now with, uh, mixed results) but the fast-fashion brand has taken a different approach: throwing money at almost every fabric innovation on the market. Its invested in several material tech startups (including Colorifix, Worn Again, Renewcell, Ambercycle, and Infinited Fiber) and promotes the materials in its glossy Conscious Exclusive capsule collections.

H&Ms Global Change Award winner page can sometimes read like the inventory of an eclectic compost bin.

As a small and scrappy material technology startup and fashion brand, Pangaia has a different, more holistic approach. It researches the most sustainable materials currently on the market and comes up with patented technology to fill the holes. It hosts a direct-to-consumer online shop filled with sleek streetwear, including tees from its other famous release, Seaweed Fiber. But it also collaborates with the rest of the industry, selling materials to other brands, connecting startups to manufacturers, and helping smart but nerdy textiles scientists talk to fashion lovers about their product. It seems to be working: since FLWRDWN was released, Pangaias Instagram following has grown from 10,000 to 500,000, and Parkes says there are some exciting new product drops coming this fall.

H&Ms annual Global Change Award winner page can sometimes read like an inventory of a truly eclectic compost bin: Orange peels, seaweed, grape waste, cow manure, mushrooms, wheat, Peruvian fruit, and nettles, have all shown up in prize-winning materials. Other crops that have had their five minutes of fame in the fashion world include pineapple leaves, sugarcane, soybeans, apple waste, winemaking waste, cactus, yeast, and coconut fiber.

But the big question is this: Will any of these material innovations actually solve our planetary problems?

The two words on everyones lips right now when it comes to fashion innovation are lab-grown: lab-grown leather, lab-grown silk, and lab-grown cotton. These arent faux materials, but the real thing produced either by growing stem cells, in the case of cotton, or genetically engineering yeast to eat sugar and spit out collagen or silk proteins. These startups, and the resulting headlines, talk in the present tense, even though its anyones guess when well be able to wear any of it.

Both the fashion and tech world tend to be too impatient about the time it will take for the science to come to fruition. After enduring the avalanche of inquiries that follow on the heels of breathless hype in fashion magazines, vegan blogs, and business publications (guilty), the researchers retreat to their labs for years to disentangle all the knots in the new science, while the startups try to find enough money to build an entirely new supply chain to produce their productswhich dont even exist yetat scale.

It can sometimes feel like an endless fashion show of prototypes well never get to buy. Bolt Threads, for example, collaborated with the luxury, cruelty-free fashion brand Stella McCartney in 2017 on a cocktail dress made from its lab-grown silk. Bolt Threads has engineered yeast to eat sugar and spit out silk proteins, which are isolated then spun into what the startup calls Microsilk. The sell is that traditional silk spinning requires boiling silkworms alive, and purportedly has high energy and water usagethe highest by far of any textile, in fact.

Because of the great press about Microsilk, in late 2017 Bolt Threads raised $123 million and then licensed technology to grow mushroom leather from the New York startup Ecovativ. The technology, called Mylo, is made by growing mycelium, the root network of mushrooms, into a sheet that is then tanned like real leather. They debuted a prototype of a mushroom leather bag in early 2018 with Stella McCartney, and later that year launched a Kickstarter for a tote bag made of mushroom leather. However, consumers have yet to see either product up close. The promised tote bags delivery has been pushed back several times to late 2020partly due to COVID-19, the company saysand weve heard nothing of microsilk since Adidas and Stella McCartney collaborated on a tennis dress in 2019.

Modern Meadow, another exciting startup that engineers yeast to spit out collagen for lab-grown leather they call Zoa, also blew past an expected commercial launch date of 2018. They have since had their heads down working in their Brooklyn lab, avoiding press. An investor for lab-grown leather competitor MycoWorks got in a dig at Modern Meadow in a February essay explaining his investment. Dont get me wrong, Modern Meadow has an incredible team, he wrote. [CEO] Andras Forgacs is as smart as they come, and I expect theyll get there; but harnessing biology is a really really hard problem.

The investor is right: Were talking about designing and manipulating biomolecules and proteins to create an entirely new material the world has never seen before, eliminating animals and the farm entirely while also satisfying the fussy designers at luxury brands, and then building an entirely new supply chain. And not everyone is comfortable with a world where we are genetically engineering silk and leather in a lab. A joint report by the California nonprofit Fibershed and the Canadian nonprofit ETC Group warned that lab-grown textiles could undermine farmers worldwide, create a dangerous new source of biotech waste, put additional pressure on ecosystems, and divert support away from truly sustainable natural fiber economies.

They may be relieved that all signs point to Reishi by MycoWorks winning the race for commercially available, petroleum-free leather. Reishi is also made by growing mycelium, which feeds on agricultural waste such as sawdust in two-by-three foot trays in a dimly lit, low-energy facility before being sent off to a heritage tannery in Spain for finishing. A chief manufacturing officer and chief of product joined the startup in June, and CEO Matthew Scullin says the company actually added brands to its customer roster during the pandemic and is in the process of opening a third commercial plant with a production capacity of 80,000 square feet of material per year. Scullin unfortunately couldnt share any details about the luxury products designer clients are launching with MycoWorks, except that they are slated for the next few months. Vague, but promising.

Agricultural waste alone could provide 2.5 times the material we need to meet global fiber demand.

Before you start dreaming about a world in which the Amazon rainforest is no longer burned for cattle ranching, we must point out that there will be zero practical effect on the leather industry if we replace the real stuff with its lab-grown or mushroom equivalents. Even before fashions appetite for leather plummeted, a cattle rancher would earn less than 8% of his income from selling the hideits always been just a bonus. At the same time, the global demand for beef is rising. The result is a huge glut of cow hides, which go to the landfill or are burned. As long as were eating more steaks than we are wearing cowboy boots, we may as well put that leather to use.

Still, there are definitely some environmental benefits to lab-grown leather aside from the absence of a slaughterhouse. Because it can be grown into custom shapes, it doesnt produce off-cut waste like irregularly shaped cow hides. It also skips right over the step used for real leather, in which chemicals help scrape fat and hair off, creating a noxious waste; MycoWorks process uses benign, chromium-free chemistry. And the process of growing mycelium actually draws carbon down from the atmosphere instead of emitting it.

Newcomer Galy is a startup that grows cotton fiber in a dish. Using the plants stem cellswhich can be coaxed to become any part of the plantGaly is able to grow just the fiber in their lab. Galy claims their lab-grown cotton grows 10 times faster than field-grown cotton, using a fraction of the land and water typically needed, emitting a fraction of emissions, and with no pesticides. They emerged from stealth mode this year to win H&Ms Global Change Award, and garnered a $500,000 investment from Agronomics, a venture capital firm that mainly focuses on biotech meat replacements.

Unsurprisingly, these lab-grown materials will be in the premium category when they do come out, meaning their uptake by the notoriously price conscious mass-market fashion industry will be low. For now, anyway.

While we wait for fashion from a beaker, here are new biotech materials that we can shop now.

Renewcell in Sweden, Evrnu in Seattle, and Infinited Fiber in Finland use cotton waste and nontoxic chemicals to create new, cotton-like fibers. Levis launched its first batch of jeans made with 20% Circulose, Renewcells product, in July this year and probably would have made a bigger splash were it not for the pandemic. So far, the products from Adidas, Stella McCartney, and Levis that use Evrnus technology, NuCycl, have been prototypes. That could change soon with the $9.1 million Series A investment it closed last year.

Increasingly, entrepreneurs are looking to mine the worlds agricultural waste which, according to the Biomimicry Institute, could alone provide 2.5 times the material we need to meet global fiber demand. Orange Fiber is the name of both an Italian startup and its product, a silky acetate made from the waste generated by Sicilys orange juice industry. It was featured in a jacquard print, off-the-shoulder top in H&Ms small 2019 Conscious Exclusive Collection, but since then the company has gone quiet. Agraloop has ditched chemicals completely for a secret physical process that turns agricultural waste into a linen-like material, and has hinted at its own 2020 H&M launch.

Then there are what you could call the food leathers. Theres grape waste leather by Vegea, which has been used in H&Ms Conscious Exclusive collection, some luxury Italian brands, and a Bentley concept car. Theres Apple Leather from Frumat, made from harvest waste that you can find in some quite nice fall boots; Desserto cactus leather, which went quiet after releasing a truly memorable promotional video; and the industrys favorite, Piatex by Ananas Anam, made from pineapple-leaf fiber, which you can find in everything from sandals and watch straps to leather jackets and journal covers. Unfortunately, all of the above vegan leathers use synthetic finishes and binders, so arent entirely fossil fuel free or biodegradable. Theyre likely stopgap measures on our way to 100% plant-based and lab-grown materials, and appeal mainly to resolute vegans, rather than eco-warriors.

Theres one truly plant-based leather on the horizon, and that is Mirum by Illinois-based Natural Fiber Welding. They take fibrous materials like waste cork, hemp, coconut, cotton, and vegetable oil to create biodegradable composites that are pressed into the shape and grain of leather. Founder Luke Haverhals, who discovered the chemistry while at the Naval Academy, says Mirum is close to carbon neutral and can be recycled in the same facility in which it was made. Ralph Lauren took a minority stake in Natural Fiber Welding in August to help it scale its materialsyou should be able to buy a Mirum wallet or shoes by mid-2021.

The huge missing piece in all of this very exciting news is the data proving that these materials are sustainable. Its hard to measure the footprint of your product until your material mix is set and your factory is pretty much up to speed. But large brands, which have been publicly committing to science-based targets around climate change, are starting to demand receipts.

In that regard, Algix, which creates an algae-infused EVA foam called Bloom, has a market advantage. It sources algae from projects that filter out algae blooms from lakes, plasticizes it, mixes it with regular petroleum-based EVA or TPE to get it up to performance, and then ships the resulting pellets to Asian manufacturers who produce for footwear brands including Vivobarefoot, Adidas, Dr. Scholls, Aldo, Billabong, and Red Wing.

While Algixs data hasnt been publicly released yet, founder Ryan Hunt says that 1.4 kilograms of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases are released for every kilogram of Bloom manufactured, less than half of regular EVA. The algae itself is carbon negative and regenerative; Hunt says that the algae in one kilogram of Bloom has filtered 2,200 liters of water. (For context, one kilogram of cotton requires on average 1,200 liters of irrigation water.)

Blooms petroleum-based EVA content means it wont biodegrade, but when its literally locked up carbon and water pollutants inside your shoes, that almost feels besides the point. Brands have been banging on the regenerative drum in recent months, and Bloom slots right into those plans. I believe the reason that we have received such rapid adoption in the footwear space is because we have done all the homework and were a group of scientists, says Hunt, who has a background in physics and engineering. The brands view us as a sustainable ingredient that can help quantify the environmental improvements.

But Bloom alone wont be the solution. Neither will mushroom leather, or lab-grown cotton, or linen made from agricultural waste. But it could be all of them, together, with some room still left for smallholder farmers to grow and raise traditional materials the right way: regeneratively.

People used to ask me this when I worked on fashion and wearables, says Parkes, Pangaias chief innovation officer. Whos gonna win? Whos gonna become the Apple? The way that you win is to have everything work together in balance. Its a lot harder to do, but its totally necessary for us to have a system that mimics nature.

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Universities aren’t making a lot of money from university research – The Hechinger Report

Posted: January 18, 2020 at 7:49 pm

The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Stanford Medical School Professor Daria Mochly-Rosen delivers a TEDMED talk about how, frustrated by the slow process of bringing to market a drug that she discovered, she founded an international organization to help speed up the transformation of academic research into usable products. Photo: TEDMED/YouTube

When Daria Mochly-Rosen discovered a compound in her lab that promised to lessen the effects of heart attacks, she set out to convince pharmaceutical companies to develop it.

She couldnt.

So the professor of chemistry and systems biology at Stanford Universitys School of Medicine took a leave of absence and started her own company to further test and potentially commercialize the drug.

It seemed the obvious next step. After all, universities often speak of their success in turning research into products that make life better, with the added bonus of contributing to the economy. There are seemingly countless examples, from Gatorade, invented at the University of Florida, to Google, which began at Stanford; and from web browsers and plasma screens, both created at the University of Illinois, to the drug that became the allergy medicine Allegra, developed at Georgetown University.

But Mochly-Rosen quickly learned that there were myriad obstacles standing in the way of those kinds of payoffs, which turned out to be more exceptions than rules.

Other universities look at those very few rare cases and imagine they can also hit the invention jackpot, she said. But academicians are absolutely clueless about what needs to be done to make a project attractive to industry.

For those and other reasons, and at a time when they would seem to be searching for new sources of revenue, U.S. colleges and universities are producing a surprisingly small proportion of the nations patents and startups and making so little money from licensing inventions that, at many schools, it doesnt even cover the cost of managing them.

Most of the $75.3 billion a year from the federal government and other sources that the National Science Foundation calculates is spent by academia on research is not intended to immediately result in commercial applications. Its about fundamental knowledge. The basic research performed in university laboratories underpins discoveries that may take years to end up in the market, if they ever do.

But higher education itself often draws a connection between its research and financial returns, as it did in December after Congress increased annual research funding by $2.6 billion. The money will enhance U.S. global competitiveness [and] national security and lead to innovations that grow our economy while improving quality of life, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities proclaimed.

Trying to prod more commercialization of discoveries from federally sponsored research is also why, 40 years ago this year, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act, which gave universities the rights to the licensing revenue resulting from their research.

In fact, academic institutions accounted for only 6,639 of the 304,126 patents granted in 2016, the last year for which the figure is available, or 2 percent of the total, according to the National Science Board, which described patenting by academic inventors as being relatively limited.

When you look at university PR offices, they always talk about how theres this new research coming out of some department, and its going to revolutionize the economy, said Lee Vinsel, an assistant professor of science, technology and society at Virginia Tech who is co-authoring a forthcoming book called The Innovators Delusion. But, he said, weve been overestimating the role were playing.

Marc Levine, emeritus professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Universities and colleges spun off 11,000 startups between 1996 and 2015 an average of 550 per year according to the Association of University Technology Managers, or AUTM, whose members oversee what is known as technology transfer. Thats one-tenth of 1 percent of the roughly 400,000 annual startups reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It has almost become de rigueur among chancellors and presidents in selling the value of their universities to the larger community to say that we are engines of economic development, and theres scant evidence to support that, said Marc Levine, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has studied this subject.

The economic development argument is tenuous at best and probably even less than tenuous, Levine said.

Related: Panicked universities in search of students are adding thousands of new majors

Now some institutions are redoubling their efforts to smooth the way for their discoveries to be shared and sold.

Thats increasingly important, and not only because universities and colleges are facing state budget cuts, enrollment declines and other financial challenges. The federal portion of funding for university research has also been steadily declining, forcing institutions to look for other sources of support. And money that comes from licensing typically goes back into the research budget.

There is a real sense of urgency generally to find new ways of underwriting university research, said Joseph Allen, who as a staffer to Senator Birch Bayh helped steer the Bayh-Dole Act and later served as director of technology commercialization in the Commerce Department. The public is expecting, Youve been entrusted with billions of dollars in government research. We want to see results.

Related: Some colleges seek radical solutions to survive

But moving research from a lab to the market is complex. First, researchers have to be willing to invest time in translating abstract concepts into tangible products. Many arent, technology-transfer directors said. One called it the unbaked cake phenomenon: Academic researchers show up in her office with a metaphorical bag of flour and a cup of sugar, she said, when what investors and potential partners want is a fully baked cake.

Joseph Allen, former director of technology commercialization in the Commerce Department

Mochly-Rosen said she has seen this among her colleagues and counterparts. Theyre saying, This is as far as I want to take it, and someone else can take it from there.

After all, faculty are awarded tenure and promotion based on measures such as how much research money they bring in and how many papers they publish, not their numbers of patents or startups or the licensing revenue they earn. Even the profits from commercialization, which most universities share with them, prove little motivation.

Thats because the process takes so long. Getting a patent can take five to seven years, said Allen, and testing a drug or developing a product even longer than that. Many fail, falling into what investors call the valley of death of abandoned ideas.

Its a high-risk, imprecise thing, he said.

People think inventions come pouring out of universities. But you have to find somebody willing to pay money for it, license it, develop it. Theres a lot of steps there that are out of your control, and we should be realistic about that. It doesnt mean we cant do better.

Some universities are trying. Theyre responding not only to the potential financial benefits, but to prodding from their own faculty, or from the government agencies that fund them. And that annual number of patents, while still low, has begun to rise.

After her rocky experience with the compound she developed that aids heart-attack recovery, Mochly-Rosen founded an organization called SPARK to speed up the transformation of academic discoveries into FDA-approved drugs and treatments.

Related: As college enrollment falls, recruiters descend on a state that still has lots of applicants

SPARK does this by bringing in volunteer experts from industry to help train faculty and students about how to bring the results of their research to market, and by giving them $50,000 a year for two years to create product proposals, also known as proofs of concept.

The Stanford University campus. Though a leader in converting discoveries from research into commercial products, Stanford is among several universities revamping this process to realize a higher return. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sixty-two percent of SPARK projects are in clinical trials or have been licensed to new or existing companies or transferred to industry, a case study found, a much higher proportion than occurs with academic research discoveries in general. Now the model has spread to more than 60 universities and colleges in 22 countries.

To do good is first and foremost our agenda, said Mochly-Rosen, who has since established two more startups. Were benefitting from the taxpayers money to do research. Its our social responsibility. As for doing well, it is a very expensive business to develop drugs. So we have to recognize that you need money in order to make money, and its not incongruent with the agenda of social good.

Stanford also has reorganized its Office of Technology Licensing, under a new director who began in mid 2018, centralizing its functions and hiring new business development staff. The goal, it said, is to realize a higher return on our marketing efforts.

Its paying off. Already acknowledged to be a leader in this field, Stanford reported 560 invention disclosures and 150 licensing agreements in 2018, all up significantly over five years.

Theres a trend to push those numbers higher, said Brooke Beier, vice president for technology commercialization at the Purdue Research Foundation.

Related: Students, employees scour college finances for waste, proof of unfair pay

At her university, said Beier, who was also appointed to her job in mid 2018, The leadership and faculty inventors are making a focused effort to convert more research findings into products.

The number of patent applications is up 42 percent at Purdue over the last five years, to more than 670 last year, while the number of licensing deals rose 13 percent and the number of invention disclosures formal determinations that a discovery may be worthy of a patent increased 32 percent, to 360.

We are a university that focuses on research. Were not a product development company. But at the same time we do a lot of applied research and want to translate that to the market, Beier said.

Even the university that receives the most research funding in the nation, Johns Hopkins, did some soul searching when faculty who were trying to commercialize their findings complained about a lack of institutional resources being made available to do that. Its $1.5 billion of research in 2012, a resulting investigation found, produced less than $16 million in licensing fees, about one-tenth as much as rivals including Columbia and MIT. There was no mentorship or funding to encourage licensing or startups, and technology transfer efforts were fragmented.

Johns Hopkins University. Despite conducting $1.5 billion worth of research at the time, an investigation in 2012 found that Hopkins was producing less than $16 million a year from licensing, about one-tenth as much as rivals Columbia and MIT. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

There, too, the process has been revamped, with the creation of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, or JHTV. The university says it has now pulled ahead of Harvard, MIT, Columbia and Stanford in the number of new licenses its entered into and is tied for fourth in the number of startups.

There was a lot of untapped commercial potential, said Christy Wyskiel, JHTVs executive director, who was brought in from the private sector to run the effort. The type of research that happens here is really second to none. The question became, Why, from a job-creation or a licensing-revenue perspective, were we also not at the top? This ought to be a major part of our mission.

The University of California, Riverside, has also streamlined its technology-transfer functions, receiving 42 patents last year its most ever and attracting a 10 percent increase in direct corporate research funding: $16 million.

One way its done this is by spending money to make money, giving $1.4 million so far to researchers who want to show proof of concept, which technology transfer administrators say government grants typically dont cover. Other universities, including the University of Chicago, have created their own multimillion-dollar funds to invest in early stage faculty startups.

Our main objective is, yes, we want to get a return, said Brian Suh, director of Riversides Office of Technology Partnerships. But first we want to know, are they really going to be able to take this technology and bring it to market, which is a win-win for both sides.

Related: As small private colleges keep closing, some are fighting back

The National Science Foundation is trying to further speed up this process with a program called Innovation Corps, which trains researchers in how to commercialize work that was funded by the NSF. Its so far resulted in 644 startup companies, the agency says.

Stephen Susalka, CEO of AUTM, likened the need for this extra effort to the shift from employers once being willing to hire workers with only high school diplomas. Now more jobs require a degree, he said.

A researcher uses a microscope to look at stem cells at the Lokey Stem Cell Research Building at Stanford University. Stanford reported 560 invention disclosures and 150 licensing agreements in 2018, all up significantly over five years. Photo: John Green/Bay Area News Group/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Its kind of the same with technology transfer, said Susalka, former associate director for commercialization at Wake Forest University. Back when I started we could identify a device that might be useful, file a patent application and license that intellectual property. Now you need to develop that invention further than a purely academic researcher might do, so youre starting to see more tech transfer offices have a prototyping fund. Youre seeing more universities have venture funds to support those early stage startups.

Even the institutions where this work is getting more attention serve as examples of how long it takes to see returns, and how small they seem in comparison to the dollar value of the research they do.

Purdue conducted $645 million in research last year, from which it earned $6.7 million after costs were deducted.

Powerhouse Stanford earned $41 million in 2018 in royalties from licenses that emerged from university research. Legal expenses and administrative costs consumed more than a third of that, leaving $25.6 million to be divided among researchers and their departments. This at an institution with an $11.6 billion annual budget, including $1.7 billion a year in sponsored research.

Lee Vinsel, assistant professor of science, technology and society, Virginia Tech

One of the technologies licensed by Stanford earned just $11 in 2018, and 760 made less than $100,000 each. Only seven cleared $1 million or more.

Most universities make even less.

Twenty-nine of the 187 research institutions that reported their activity to AUTM collected less than $100,000 apiece in licensing revenue in 2017, the last year for which the figures are available, according to an analysis of the data by The Hechinger Report. Just 15 accounted for 72 percent of all the money. And the top five alone earned more than half. The list includes some academic medical centers and university-affiliated research hospitals.

Its a bit like college football, Levine said: There are some big-time programs that make a lot of money. There are some winners in the tech transfer, commercialization-of-research game, but those tend to be fairly few and far between.

Another way a few universities are trying to maximize their income is by becoming more aggressive in protecting their existing patents, something theyve previously been reluctant to do because there wasnt any money in their budgets for it. The University of California system in July sued Walmart, Ikea, Target and other retailers for the unauthorized sale of light bulbs with LED filament technology developed at UC Santa Barbara. The suit is being underwritten by a litigation financing fund in exchange for a portion of any award that results.

The enforcement work is part of that broader evolution of technology transfer, said Seth Levy, lead attorney in the case, which is pending. The trick is in making sure that the university gets some reasonable share of the proceeds when this technology is brought to market.

In one of the more unusual enforcement attempts, the University of Florida pursued the $2 million won in an artificial intelligence competition by two of its professors and four students. Unless the winners turned over the money, a university lawyer wrote, they would be subject to personnel action and possibly other more serious consequences. That move was reversed after the faculty union filed unfair labor practices complaints.

At most universities, despite all of this effort, said Virginia Techs Vinsel, the flow of money from discoveries remains a comparative trickle.

Theres always reform around this stuff. Theres always, Heres the new way were going to do it, he said.

I dont want to be overly skeptical. But theres a long track record of trying different things and not succeeding as much as the boosters have hyped it.

This story about university research was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our higher education newsletter.

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Trees and seeds during the winter | Lifestyle – Fergus Falls Daily Journal

Posted: January 11, 2020 at 5:52 am

Its Minnesota, what do you expect? That heavy wet snow is normal, but it can raise heck with your trees. Do not bat the snow off evergreen branches. Instead, lift the branch gently and bounce it up and down. If the tree is small, grab the trunk and give it a good shake. This works for deciduous trees and shrubs. Those tall skinny conifers have a tendency to split right down the middle or just flop over. If, after the snow is removed you see damage, well, they really are an ugly tree when they get too tall. It will give you a good excuse to chop them down. The use of two tall skinny trees on each side of the house or door is very outdated and doesnt do anything to enhance the front of your house except to cover it up.

Have you ever wondered why oaks keep their leaves all winter? The scientists call these leaves marcescent leaves. On a typical deciduous tree, cells at the base of the leaf stem get the signal to secrete a digestive enzyme, which cuts off the leaf in the fall when it is no longer producing food for the tree. When the leaf falls off a separation layer forms, protecting the tree from infection. Marcescent leaf stems dont have this separation layer so the leaves stay on the tree unless broken off by the wind. In the spring, swelling leaf buds push the old leaves off. This is more common on younger trees or the juvenile pars of older trees. Old Ma Nature does this to protect the young juicy buds from being eaten by hungry deer and moose.

Since we are talking about trees, dont plant Norway Maple. In some states it is illegal to buy this tree. It is considered biological pollution. This is one of those plants that are listed as fast growing or vigorous. In other words, the darn thing grows like mad and shades out native plants. It is also a soft tree, throwing branches around in every strong wind and apt to fall over just about the time its big enough to give shade. The state prints a booklet with a list of plants they dont want you to plant because they are either invasive or not suited for our climate.

This time of year the seed catalogs are filling our mailboxes. They are a great resource for gardeners. They have descriptions of the flowers and vegetables as to size, spread, color and for melons, how many you can expect per vine. However, if you are looking for a special color bloom, the print color may not be the color you will get in your garden. In choosing vegetable seeds, look for words like delicious, excellent taste or some other description of flavor. You also need to know how long to ripeness. Never get a seed that takes longer than 120 days, 90 are better. We do have early frosts on occasion. Look at the address on the catalog. If it is below the upper tier of states, chuck it. Dont buy plants, trees or shrubs from a catalog because they need to be shipped. They are usually bare root and quite small, and you dont know the growing conditions. An apple tree grown in Illinois may just say, Im freezing to death, and give up the ghost next spring. This is a case for buying locally. Local nurseries not only sell hardy plants, they are a repository of planting hints; how to, where and when. You cant get that from Gurney.

Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.

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Biobots are hybrid machines that have muscles and nerves – DesignNews

Posted: November 25, 2019 at 8:41 pm

An artist rendering of a new generation of biobots developed by researchers at the University of Illinois--soft robotic devices powered by skeletal muscle tissue stimulated by on-board motor neurons. (Image source: Michael Vincent)

The next-generation of medical treatment and diagnosis likely will include tiny robots that can explore inside the human body and perform appointed tasks.

To drive this technological aim, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed soft, biological robotic devices that are self-driven using light-stimulated neuromuscular tissue and have intelligence, memory, and learning ability. The work brings researchers a step closer toward the development of autonomous biobots.

This is the first milestone towards intelligent biorobots that make themselves through self assembly, project leader Taher Saif, a mechanical science and engineering professor from the University of Illinois, told Design News.

Muscle cells mixed with an extra cellular matrix is dropped on the tail part, where muscle cells form the muscle tissue by self assembly, Saif told Design News. Neurons are placed on the head part of the swimmer from where they spread out and form junctions with the muscle. These neurons then fire and make the muscle contract.

The researchers published a paper on their recent work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The recent work is a continuation of Saifs research on similar technology. In 2014, research teams led by Saif and a colleague, bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir, developed the first self-propelled biohybrid robots that could swim and walk, powered by beating cardiac muscle cells derived from rats.

While those robots could move on their own using biomaterials, they couldnt sense the environment or make decisions, Saif said.

The current work takes this technology a step further with biobots powered by skeletal muscle tissue and stimulated by on-board motor neurons, he said. The neurons have optogenetic properties derived from mouse stem cells; when exposed to light, they fire to actuate the muscle tissue.

Neurons make connections between each other forming a neural network, Saif explained. Some of the neurons form junctions with the muscle. The neurons fire and stimulate the muscle.

Once the muscle is stimulated, it contracts and moves the tails of the swimming biobot, Saif said. This motion of the tails make the swimmer propel forward.

Once the researchers ensured that the neuromuscular tissue used in the biobots was compatible with the synthetic biobot skeletons, they then set about to optimize the abilities of the swimming device. In particular, they aimed for the bot to be able to respond intelligently to environment cues by integrating neural units within biohybrid systems.

Given our understanding of neural control in animals, it may be possible to move forward with biohybrid neuromuscular design by using a hierarchical organization of neural networks, Saif said in a press statement.

Once these smart biobots are optimized, Saif and his team believe they can be used for various applications in bioengineering, medicine, and self-healing materials and technologies.

In the future, it is possible that such intelligent micro biorobots may swim towards a target tissue inside the body and deliver drugs on an on-demand basis, Saif told Design News.

The team plans to continue its work by exploring the use of multiple types of neurons in the biobot as well as to test the robots ability to sense and fire when a threshold signal such as a chemical gradient is exceeded.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

January 28-30:North America's largest chip, board, and systems event,DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valleyfor its 25th year!The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard?Register to attend!

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Personalized Stem Cells, Inc. Announces First Patients Enrolled in FDA Approved Clinical Trial for Treatment of Osteoarthritis with Stem Cells – PR…

Posted: October 5, 2019 at 4:46 am

We are proud that as we celebrate the first anniversary of the formation of the company, we are also celebrating the successful enrollment of the first patient in our first FDA approved clinical trial.

POWAY, Calif. (PRWEB) October 02, 2019

Personalized Stem Cells, Inc (PSC), a human adipose-derived stem cell company, has successfully enrolled the first patient in an FDA approved clinical trial for stem cell treatment of knee osteoarthritis. The successful enrollment comes only a little more than one year after formation of the company as a subsidiary of VetStem Biopharma.

PSC CEO, Michael Dale, stated, We are proud that as we celebrate the first anniversary of the formation of the company, we are also celebrating the successful enrollment of the first patient in our first FDA approved clinical trial. This is a remarkable feat considering what is required to develop and validate stem cell processing procedures, clinical protocols, and the FDA application process.

Clinical trial sites are currently located in San Diego and Los Angeles California, Portland Oregon, Chicago Illinois, and New Jersey. Additional clinical trial sites are anticipated in Q4 2019 and early 2020.

In July of 2019, PSC received FDA approval for a New Drug (IND) application to conduct clinical trials for use of a persons own adipose-derived stem cells to treat their osteoarthritis. This first clinical trial will use stem cells to treat osteoarthritis in the knee. In just two months, PSC has recruited, trained, and qualified clinical trial sites sufficient to treat up to 125 patients in this first clinical trial.

This is the first of several planned clinical trials which will enable qualified PSC-enrolled physicians to provide FDA compliant, quality cell therapy to patients suffering from osteoarthritis. PSC plans to conduct a series of FDA approved clinical trials starting with uses in orthopedics and expanding to other medical conditions in the future.

PSC is working within the FDA cell therapy regulations to provide stem cell therapy for patients that follows the rules FDA has created in order to assure consistent manufacturing, quality tested cells and clinical trial and manufacturing oversite for safety and efficacy.

PSC was founded by Robert Harman, DVM, MPVM and Michael Dale, both of whom also co-founded VetStem Biopharma and are both experienced serial entrepreneurs.

About Personalized Stem Cells, Inc.Personalized Stem Cells was formed in 2018 to advance and legitimize human regenerative medicine. This privately held biopharmaceutical enterprise, based near San Diego (California), offers qualified physicians who enroll, an FDA compliant autologous stem cell product (from patients own fat tissue) for use in FDA approved clinical trials. PSC is driving development and adoption of stem cell and regenerative medicine within the FDA-IND process by providing cGMP manufactured, quality tested cells, and well-defined clinical trials. PSC has licensed a portfolio of over 70 issued patents in the field of regenerative medicine.

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Sperm-like biobots swim toward seeding stem cells – The Sociable

Posted: September 25, 2019 at 12:45 am

Biobots modeled after sperm cells can now swim, which means they could one day seed stem cells to deliver drugs, perform minimally invasive surgery, and target cancer.

Our first swimmer study successfully demonstrated that the bots, modeled after sperm cells, could in fact swim

Conceived at the University of Illinois, researchers announced on Monday that they have built microscopic biohybrid robots (biobots) that can swim.

The biobots are modeled after nature, in particular sperm cells, and are propelled by muscles and nerves derived from rats.

Read More:Nature is intelligent: Pentagon looks to insects for AI biomimicry design

Research teams led by Taher Saif and Rashid Bashir worked together to develop the first self-propelled biohybrid swimming and walking biobots powered by beating cardiac muscle cells derived from rats, according to the National Science Foundation.

Our first swimmer study successfully demonstrated that the bots, modeled after sperm cells, could in fact swim, Saif said.

The two-tailed, sperm-inspired biobots are powered by skeletal muscle tissue stimulated by on-board motor neurons. Upon exposure to light, the neurons fire to actuate the muscles.

A major obstacle to anyone trying to fuse machine with organic matter is compatibility, yet the team discovered that the neuromuscular tissue was compatible with their synthetic biobot skeletons.

Read More:Could quantum computing and exotic materials facilitate AI-human cyborgs?

According to Saif, this advance could lead to the development of multicellular engineered living systems with the ability to respond intelligently to environmental cues for applications in bioengineering, medicine and self-healing materials technologies.

In other words, a future version of these sperm-inspired biobots could one day be swimming through your body to seed stem cells, target illnesses, or administer drugs internally.

Potentially broad impact in robotics, bioengineering, and health

Saif laid out his vision back in 2014 when the project began, and five years later it is becoming a reality.

The long-term vision is simple. Could we make elementary structures and seed them with stem cells that would differentiate into smart structures to deliver drugs, perform minimally invasive surgery or target cancer? he said at the time.

According to the research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the significance for such a breakthrough is great.

This paves the way for the development of biohybrid embodied platforms as models to gain deeper understanding of motor control, with potentially broad impact in robotics, bioengineering, and health.

However no two living machines can be expected to develop the same, and although they have created biobots that can swim, it may be difficult to consistently replicate those abilities.

One may move faster or heal from damage differently from the other a unique attribute of living machines, said Saif.

On a related note, the Pentagon has been researching bioelectronics for military use.

In February, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration (BETR) program for the intelligent healing of complex wounds like those suffered on the battlefield.

Read More:Bioengineering soldiers for smart, adaptive wound recovery

Wounds are living environments and the conditions change quickly as cells and tissues communicate and attempt to repair. An ideal treatment would sense, process, and respond to these changes in the wound state and intervene to correct and speed recovery, said BETR program manager Paul Sheehan, in a statement.

It seems that DARPA could look to the University of Illinois for inspiration, if it hasnt already.

The swimming biobot project is part of a larger National Science Foundation-supported Science and Technology Center on Emergent Behaviors in Integrated Cellular Systems, which also produced walking biobots developed at Illinois in 2012.

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Scientists Create Tiny Soft Robots That Get Propelled by Muscles And Nerves – Mashable India

Posted: at 12:45 am

Researchers have been mixing biology and technology together since quite a long time. We have already seen examples of researchers develop tiny human brains using stem cells. Then we have the lifelike robots that can move, eat, and die using artificial metabolism. Now, researchers have developed new soft robotic devices who can swim around when their neuromuscular tissue gets triggered on light exposure.

SEE ALSO: Scientists Create Titan In A Jar To Answer Questions About the Existence On Saturn's Moon

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is led by Taher Saif, mechanical science and engineering professor at the University of Illinois.

As a part of the study, researchers demonstrated a new generation of two-tailed bots that are powered by skeletal muscle tissue and stimulated by on-board motor neurons. These neurons have optogenetic properties, meaning that these neurons fire up to operate the muscles on light exposure.

"We applied an optogenetic neuron cell culture, derived from mouse stem cells, adjacent to the muscle tissue. The neurons advanced towards the muscle and formed neuromuscular junctions, and the swimmer assembled on its own, mentioned Saif. Once the researchers were able to confirm that these neuromuscular tissue of the robots was compatible with synthetic biobot skeletons, they then worked to optimize the swimmer's abilities.

They made use of different computational models to determine which physical attributes in the robots would make them the fastest and most efficient at swimming. They also had to carefully design the scaffold in which these biorobots would grow and interact to achieve locomotive functions.

SEE ALSO: Researchers Create AI Using Just A Sheet of Glass!

Saif and his team are further going to lead the development of these multicellular engineered living systems who can also respond intelligently to environmental cues in the fields of bioengineering and medicine.

Image credit: Michael Vincent/University of Illinois

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