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Meyerhoff Graduate Fellow and Classmate Win National Contest

Camilo Vanegas, 3rd Year Graduate Student at UMB

August 8, 2016 12:25 PM

Elizabeth Weingartner and Camilo Vanegas, third-year students in the School of Medicine’s Graduate Program in Life Sciences (GPILS), have been named winners in a Nanotechnology Startup Competition sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI).

Ten teams advanced in the worldwide competition. The winning entrepreneurs were selected based on 10-page business plans, financial models, and 20-minute “live pitches” to a panel of expert judges.

“The competition started with us picking a technology patented by the NIH,” says Weingartner, a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “Then we researched and decided the technology could be further developed to replace the current, antiquated method for monitoring the remission status of chronic myeloid leukemia [CML],” a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow.

New Technology

Their entry, Nanobernetics, plans on utilizing newly developed carbon nanotube technology for their first product “Smart CML Detection.” Millions of carbon nanotubes act as transistors attached to CML probes. When a probe hybridizes to its target CML biomolecule, a shift in electrical current is identified. This shift gives clinicians critical information pertaining to the remission status of the patient’s CML. The current method for detecting this CML biomolecule is not sensitive enough, say UMB’s young research pair. “It’s like comparing a VCR to a Blu-ray player,” says Vanegas.

Weingartner and Vanegas created a two-minute video, a 10-page business plan, and gave a live pitch to the judges on Nanobernetics, which they hope to advance as a new classification of cancer remission, “Deep Molecular Remission.”

Development Guidance

Winners of an Innovation Spotlight Award for “Smart CML Detection,” they will receive guidance from the CAI about incorporating as a startup and negotiating with NIH for a license to develop the technology into a product.

The 10 winning teams will move forward to the third and final phase of the challenge — the Startup Phase. In this phase, the winning teams will form their startups to advance cancer nanotechnology inventions.

“We couldn’t be more excited about advancing in the Nanotechnology Startup Competition,” says Vanegas, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “Our success was possible because of the support we received from our PIs, mentors, and the UM Ventures office.”

The Nanotechnology Startup Challenge is supported by regional partners such as MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca.

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