By Paula Van Brocklin, Office of the Vice President for Research, and Julie Lelonek, Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations

Applications for Iowa State University’s third I-Corps cohort are being accepted now through Sept. 7. To be considered, teams should complete the online application. Selected applicants will be invited to participate in a review panel before the final cohort is selected. Key program dates for the fall 2018 semester are online.

“Participating in I-Corps offers Iowa State researchers and students an incredible opportunity to learn what it takes to commercialize their products and ideas,” said Guru Rao, associate vice president of research and an I-Corps Site team leader. “I encourage all university researchers to consider whether their research is a good match for I-Corps, and then to apply for the next cohort.”

A brief look back

It’s been less than a year since Iowa State became a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) site, taking ground-breaking NSF-funded research from the lab to the marketplace. Since that time, dozens of Iowa State faculty, postdocs and graduate students have found success while exploring the commercial potential of their research.

Iowa State’s inaugural I-Corps cohort, selected in 2017, included 15 teams from the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine. The second cohort, selected in early 2018, included 13 teams from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, agriculture, computer sciences, life sciences, biorenewables and gerontology.

The research groups from the second cohort wrapped up a four-week programming schedule earlier this spring, where they learned how to increase the commercial potential of their research. The curriculum focused on customer discovery to support the transition of ideas, devices, processes or intellectual activities into the marketplace.

“We were very pleased to see the diversity of ideas and disciplines represented in this second class,” said Kris Johansen, chief operating officer of the ISU Startup Factory and one of three ISU I-Corps Site team leaders, along with Rao and Bill Adamowski, president of the ISU Startup Factory. “The aim of the I-Corps program is to embed a stronger and more pervasive culture of entrepreneurship and innovation across the entire campus community, and already within just its first two cohorts, the program is cultivating some of the budding startup potential that exists here at Iowa State.”

I-Corps success stories

Following are two research success stories from Iowa State’s first I-Corps cohort:

Stronger traffic signals

  • Saransh Dikshit, graduate research assistant, civil, construction and environmental engineering
  • Alice Alipour, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering

When dark, ominous clouds roll through the sky, most people suspect a storm is brewing and shrug it off. Alice Alipour, on the other hand, thinks about how storm-induced winds might force traffic signals to topple over, causing personal injury, property damage or traffic disruption.

The assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering (CCEE) knows traffic signal supports are structurally flexible with low mechanical damping, making them susceptible to fatigue failures from vibrations. As a result, she and her team, including Saransh Dikshit, graduate research assistant in CCEE, and Partha Sarkar, professor of aerospace engineering, are developing a new design for traffic signals that will help them dampen vibrations by transforming their inherent aerodynamic properties.

I-Corps has allowed Alipour and her team to engage in customer discovery early on to account for different factors — like customer preferences, functionality, and codes and regulations — to maximize the benefit of their final product to the community.

“I-Corps helped us get the experience of interacting with the end users of the products we are developing before finalizing designs,” Dikshit said. “The program made us more aware of the final implications of our research and taught us the basics of business planning. This process sparked some new ideas and helped us understand that the projects we are conducting are much more than immediate search results and, in fact, positively impact the users of our innovations.”

Alipour estimates the new product will not only be used as a retrofit solution on exiting traffic signals, but also an integrated design of new structures, providing a cost-effective solution to improve the structural safety of traffic signals at every intersection.

A possible cure for Parkinson’s

  • Daniel Luo, graduate research assistant, biomedical sciences
  • Anumantha Kanthasamy, Distinguished Professor and chair, biomedical sciences

People are living longer, thanks to numerous medical advances. However, this also increases the prevalence of age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. Anumantha Kanthasamy, Distinguished Professor and chair of biomedical sciences, spent the past eight years evaluating existing research on Parkinson’s and came up with an idea that may, one day, cure the disease.

Kanthasamy and his team of researchers, including Daniel Luo, graduate research assistant in biomedical sciences, have discovered a way to target support cells in the brain to protect certain neurons and restore brain functions lost through Parkinson’s disease. The team is developing a drug that could potentially cure this degenerative illness, not just treat its symptoms. So far, Kanthasamy’s team has progressed into the preclinical phase and has successfully mitigated motor symptoms in rodent models of Parkinson’s disease.

I-Corps has been instrumental in helping the researchers form a team, named NeuroImmunePharma, to move the research process from concept to commercialization.

“I-Corps has helped connect what’s done in the academic laboratory to the expectation of investors and pharmaceutical companies,” Luo said. “We’ve learned about funding sources for NeuroImmunePharma and reached out to experts that was only made possible through I-Corps.”

Around 10 years of additional testing and approvals, as well as large amounts of capital, are required before a drug candidate, like the one being tested by Kanthasamy’s group, could translate into a drug that possibly cures Parkinson’s disease.

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