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WPI Awarded $50,000 Grant for Fish Health Technology

Thursday, June 05, 2014


A team of engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute has earned a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program.  The team is developing a new technology in which molecules extracted from fish gills are used to block human infections on catheters, orthopedic implants, and other medical devices.

Grant Funding

I-Corps grants are awarded to groups developing technologies with previous NSF funding.  The grants help continue the progress of projects that are ready to advance from an academic lab to commercial production.

“Millions of people in the United States are treated each year with catheters, orthopedic implants, and similar invasive medical devices that carry the risk of serious implant-related infections,” said Todd Alexander, a doctoral student at WPI and the NSF designated “entrepreneurial lead” for the I-Corps project. “We’re trying to help prevent those cases by creating new surfaces for implants and devices that block infections.”

AMPs Technology

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are molecules the WPI team is using in its research.  Fish use AMPs in their gills to trap and kill pathogens before they can enter the bloodstream.  The WPI team found that AMPs were capable of killing 82% of E. Coli bacteria, a finding that way published in the ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces journal in a paper titled “Creating Antibacterial Surfaces with the Peptide Chrysophsin-1” 

The team has been refining the technology and now aims to commercialize a process for coating the surfaces of medical devices with AMPs to fight bacteria and other pathogens that can lead to infections.

“We are very pleased the National Science Foundation sees the potential of our work to be translated in ways that may help people avoid serious infections,” said Terri Camesano, PhD, professor of chemical engineering and assistant dean of engineering, who is the principal investigator of the I-Corps grant and the leader of the associated AMP research program. “This will be an intensive, fast-moving process, and it fits well with the entrepreneurial focus we bring to our lab.”

Road Ahead

The WPI team is one of 24 selected from universities around the country to receive an I-Corps grants in this current round. Alexander is in contact with medical device manufacturers, clinicians, surgeons and other medical professionals to get feedback on the AMP-based infection control technology.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience listening to what potential customers have to say,” Alexander said. “When we first began this project, we focused on the orthopedic market, and there is still some need there. What we have been hearing loud and clear from many people, however, is that there is a much bigger, more pressing need to deal with infections that can arise from central venous catheters. So we are adjusting our plan to explore that segment first.”

I-Corps teams make final pitches to NSF officials after receiving final feedback.  The top technologies and accompanying business plans will be fast-tracked into the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program, which will raise more funds for the company.


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