Three Sciences Faculty Receive Chancellor’s Innovation Fund Grants

North Carolina State University has announced that seven projects will receive support from its Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) in fiscal year 2017. The funding will help NC State researchers move innovative discoveries from the lab bench to the marketplace, in areas ranging from the development of new antibiotics to the creation of faster, more accurate medical diagnostic tools.

This year’s CIF winners include three College of Sciences faculty who are leading innovative projects designed to turn great ideas into real-world products and solutions.

Chemist Gavin Williams wants to turn E. coli microbes into antibiotic-producing factories.

Scientists can genetically modify microbes to produce specific drugs by inserting different gene combinations into the microbes and then testing the results. With all of the genetic pathways and interactions involved, this can result in literally millions of variants that need testing – a process that is currently too time-consuming and costly to be effective.

Williams has developed a fluorescent biosensor that is inserted into genetically modified microbes to help researchers locate the needle in the microbe haystack. When the drug or molecule of interest is detected, the biosensor lights up and the scientists have a much smaller pool of candidates to test. This new technology will allow scientists to quickly create and test new antibiotics that may be more powerful, with fewer side effects, than those we currently have.

Researchers Reza Ghiladi in the Department of Chemistry, Frank Scholle in the Department of Biological Sciences and Dimitris Argyropoulos in the Department of Forest Biomaterials have created new anti-infective coatings that are activated by light, which could help protect surfaces in hospitals, food processing centers, wastewater treatment plants and daycare facilities. The low-cost coatings are made from engineered plant cellulose nanofibers that have light-sensitive molecules embedded in them. When activated, these molecules inhibit the growth and spread of harmful bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites.

One potential application for these coatings is in health care, where 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections result in nearly 100,000 deaths and $30-45 billion in additional health care costs each year. The coatings can be applied to existing materials without contributing to drug-resistant superbugs.

This is the sixth year of the CIF. Over its first five years, the fund awarded $1.9 million to 28 projects. That investment in NC State innovation has led to the creation of 10 startup companies, 14 commercialization agreements, $9.9 million in follow-on funding to support further development and $983,000 in licensing revenue.

(Original story and full list of winners at NC State News)

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