Life Sciences Innovation Hub awards $1M to biomedical projects


The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Life Sciences Innovation Hub at the University of Michigan recently awarded nearly $1 million to support and advance six translational research projects with high commercial potential.

Four of the projects are led by researchers at U-M, while the other two are led by researchers at Wayne State University and Grand Valley State University in collaboration with Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital.

The MTRAC Life Sciences Innovation Hub aims to fund high-tech projects that address significant unmet needs in health care. It is supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and co-managed by Innovation Partnerships in the Office of the Vice President for Research, and Fast Forward Medical Innovation in the Medical School Office of Research.

U-M recently was renewed as the MTRAC Life Sciences Innovation Hub for a new six-year term. The awarded funding was the first in five years of anticipated project funding. Investigators at state research universities, nonprofit research centers and hospital systems across Michigan are eligible to apply for support from MTRAC Life Sciences.

“The MEDC has accelerated biomedical research for the last 10 years through the MTRAC Life Sciences Innovation Hub at U-M. Over that period, the program has invested more than $20 million in innovations from seven Michigan public universities and four major hospitals and health systems across the state of Michigan,” said Kelly Sexton, associate vice president for research and innovation partnerships at U-M.

“This investment has yielded a strong impact on biomedical technology development in Michigan. The funding has resulted in more than $160 million in follow-on funds, 35 startups and the generation of more than 120 high-tech jobs in the state.”

The MTRAC Life Sciences request for proposals received competitive submissions from across Michigan that focus on areas with high potential to impact human health, including therapeutics, medical devices, digital health technologies and research tools.

Investigators and their projects awarded funding in 2023 are:

  • Shorya Awtar, professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering — High-performance prosthetic hand with anthropomorphic capabilities.
  • Zhiqiang Cao, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, WSU — Anti-adhesion technology.
  • Gabriel Corfas, Lynn and Ruth Townsend Professor of Communication Disorders, professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, and director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, Medical School — Small molecule positive modulators of logan-induced Ret signaling as treatment for peripheral neuropathy.
  • John Farris, professor of product design and manufacturing engineering, GVSU; and Marlene Seltzer, obstetrics and gynecology specialist,  Beaumont Hospital — Labor assist device.
  • Elliott Rouse, associate professor of robotics and of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering — An intelligent ankle-foot orthosis that can automatically adjust across activities and users.
  • J. Scott VanEpps, assistant professor of emergency medicine, Medical School; and assistant professor of macromolecular sciences and engineering, College of Engineering — Ventilator-associated pneumonia prevention mouthguard.

“The projects selected for MTRAC Life Sciences funding this year represent the advanced biomedical research occurring across the state of Michigan,” said Steven Kunkel, executive vice dean for research at the Medical School and chief scientific officer for Michigan Medicine.

“We are grateful that the MEDC provides this support to investigators seeking to broaden the impact of their research through commercialization.”

From the application stage through funding, projects benefit from access to experienced mentors-in-residence, commercialization education programming and feedback from an extended network of expertise. The program has funded nearly 100 projects across Michigan since 2014.

“The program continues to be a bountiful resource to Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we are pleased to continue providing support for projects originating from participating universities, hospital systems and nonprofit research centers across the state,” said Larry Herriman, director of the MEDC University Technology Program.


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