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Funding Request to Move Projects from Lab to Marketplace

February 16, 2009

brinkerUNM research in nanoscience and bioengineering is producing scientific advances and economic opportunities in energy and healthcare, including a new generation of diagnostic materials, biofuels, and drug discovery.

Some of the most important innovations in nano-bio research are being developed by Jeff Brinker, Distinguished and Regent’s Professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering with an appointment in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and soon the Cancer Center. Brinker is also one of two Sandia National Laboratories Fellows and has gained an international reputation in advanced materials and nanoscience and technology. One aspect of his recent work combines silica (the material of beach sand) and lipids (the fatty components of cell membranes) to create microenvironments to study cellular behavior. This work advances the field from two-dimensional studies carried out in Petri dishes to three-dimensional studies that may more faithfully represent in vivo environments.  The cells encased in these structures can be kept alive in the lab for weeks to years and are of potential importance for studying drug resistance, dormancy, and cancer metastasis and to develop new ultra stable vaccines. He has also combined lipids with nanostructured particles to create tiny ‘protocells’ that are being tested now to detect and kill cancer. Commenting on Brinker’s nanostructures for cancer treatment, a December 2007 Forbesmagazine article, “The Science of Small,” profiling Brinker and his research concluded, “Someday that engineering feat may turn into a commercial reality.”

That’s the reason why UNM asked the state legislature for money to finish and equip empty space in the new Centennial Engineering Center for nano-bio engineering. The capital project will enhance the economic impact of nanoscience and bioengineering research at UNM. It will provide the means to both develop entrepreneurial initiatives within the campus and to effectively engage outside partners in transitioning these to startups and other commercial activity.

The programs housed in this project will address the gap in transitioning technology to the marketplace, called “The Valley of Death” -- projects too far along to get funding from research sources and that haven’t yet received public and private sector investment. The nano-bio engineering space will provide opportunities for research team members to develop entrepreneurial plans after the conclusion of sponsored research and encourage development of technology jointly held between UNM and external partners. Nano-bio researchers will work closely with STC.UNM, key external partners such as the Sandia National Laboratories, and various commercial partners. 

 Without this program, the gap in time and money between federally funded research and investor/technology transfer mechanisms will persist, curtailing economic development. Faculty engaged in technology transfer and economic development play a key role in New Mexico’s economic future, making them especially attractive targets for other states and institutions seeking shortcuts to innovation. If UNM does not provide mechanisms supporting technology transfer and economic development, faculty will move to other institutions that do. New Mexico will then lose the opportunity to capture the economic development associated with ongoing innovations in nanotechnology and bio-engineering.