Newswise — Charlottesville, Va., June 17, 2014 — Four University of Virginia researchers will receive a total of $550,000 from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology’s Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, a state resource to advance science and technology-based research, development and commercialization and drive economic growth in Virginia.

U.Va. computer science professor Kevin Skadron, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Patrick Hopkins, and pharmacology professor Mark Kester received awards from the Matching Funds Program; while cell biology professor John Herr received an award from the Eminent Researcher Recruitment Program.

“These awards continue the CRCF mission to advance crucial research and commercialization projects that foster innovation and new economic development opportunities across Virginia,” said Peter Jobse, Center for Innovation Technology president and chief executive officer.

The Matching Funds Program is designed to assist the development of early stage research and technology with commercialization potential. The Eminent Researcher Recruitment Program helps public institutions recruit top scholars.

Kevin SkadronKevin Skadron, director of U.Va.’s new Center for Automata Processing, is leading efforts to explore applications, algorithms and new programming models for a novel computational accelerator recently developed by Micron Technology – the Automata Processor. Preliminary results suggest speedups of five to 100 times compared to conventional central processing units in computers.

U.Va.’s center – established with seed funding from Micron – will bring together companies and academic researchers from around the world to collaborate on new applications for the automata processor. With the new funding, Skadron intends to develop a library of “building blocks” to help programmers perform common tasks efficiently on the automata processor. This in turn will help engage the business community in Charlottesville and around the state to foster adoption of this automata computing to address a range of highly complex “big data” problems, from genomics to archive analysis to e-commerce.

Patrick HopkinsEngines and turbines operate with greater fuel efficiency when run at higher temperatures. Patrick Hopkins, a mechanical and aerospace engineer, is responding by developing thermal barrier coatings to protect steam turbine and high-performance jet engine blades when operated at high temperatures. And a projected worldwide market of about $160 billion by 2016 is demanding greater fuel efficiency from such engines. With an already well-established research program, Hopkins will subject his novel coatings to full thermal cycling and reliability testing while creating a first-of-its-kind thermal barrier coating that will passively generate usable power while thermally protecting turbine blades.

Mark KesterMark Kester, U.Va.’s new nanoSTAR Institute co-director, suggests that “the future of medicine is small; real small. Nanotechnology will revolutionize our ability to seek, image and treat disease.” Presently the use of nano-scale drug formulations are designed for intravenous administration and are not engineered for oral dosing. Kester is developing a nanoplatform oral-delivery insulin that would reduce the number of insulin injections needed by diabetics, reduce side-effects from standard insulin delivery methods and increase patient compliance. He will use his new grant to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of his insulin-ORAL platform and support further commercialization of the technology through Charlottesville start-up company, OraceuTX.

John HerrJohn Herr’s award is directed at the recruitment of a junior faculty candidate, Dr. Eusebio Pires, whose research has helped unlock a fundamental new insight into the nature of cancers, including lung, breast, pancreas, uterus, ovary and kidney. This insight is that a high percentage of these tumors, when they go awry, begin to express proteins that are normally only found in growing eggs. Dr. Pires is studying a protein called SAS1B. Because of its restricted localization in eggs and tumors SAS1B provides a strategy to selectively target tumor cells without harming healthy normal cells, overcoming undesirable side-effects of contemporary cancer treatments.

U.Va. currently is leading a new field of research called cancer-oocyte antigens. Hiring Pires is critical to maintaining the University’s momentum in this emerging arena of oncology research. Pires will lead an interdisciplinary team of basic and clinical collaborators in OB-GYN oncology, clinical chemistry and pathology to develop diagnostic assays and targeted biological therapeutics that promise to result in precision, personalized medicine for patients with SAS1B positive cancers.

Pires’ research has resulted in the filing of four landmark national and international patent applications. These intellectual properties have resulted in the formation of a new Virginia corporation, Neoantigenics, which is providing matching funds as well as proprietary technologies through a strategic partnership with Pfizer, a leading biopharmaceutical company.

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