Three LSU College of Science professors have received approximately $90,000 from the Leverage Innovation for Technology Transfer fund, or LIFT2 grant. These professors are among 22 other faculty members across LSU campuses to receive LIFT2 awards.
Created by the LSU Board of Supervisors in January 2014, the fund helps support further commercialization of innovation and establishes data to support commercial feasibility of innovation.
In the biology department, plant cell biologist Naohiro Kato has been working for some time to create safe eco-friendly bioplastics that disintegrate less quickly than other current biodegradable bioplastics on the market.
Kato received $36,792 from the LIFT2 fund. His award will support three aspects of his innovation. One third goes to a company that grows the microalgae for his products. Another third to a plastic molding company, and the last third will support product analysis.
“There’s a long history behind this project. I had a friend who made a grass roots organization that purchased a lot of beads,” said Kato. “Her crew members found that they spent $12 million dollars to get Mardi Gras beads. That’s 12,000 tons of plastic. Out of that 12,000, 98 percent of them go in the trash.”
Kato wants to help decrease the amount of non-biodegradable plastics and increase the percentage of biodegradable products on the market. Current bioplastics on the market only contain 50 percent of the microalgae needed to make the plastic. Kato’s technology will help make a product that is made up of 98 percent microalgae.
This new technology could open up a new wave of commerce for the state of Louisiana, especially due to the area’s capacity to grow abundant amounts of microalgae. Louisiana could become the hub for microalgae production and possibly one of the best places to produce bioplastics like Kato’s.
While Kato is doing a lot of his work off campus, some of the scientists supported through the LIFT2 fund are refining their research on campus like Chemistry Professor Kermit Murray.
Murray, who specializes in mass spectrometry, a type of analytical chemistry used to find the chemical make-up of small samples, is using LIFT2 funds to analyze laser ablation nano-dissection for DNA sequencing.
“When you shoot a laser at things, you blast material off. If the laser is at a lower energy or a continuous laser, it tends to heat things up, and those [things] will come off as molecules,” Murray said. “But if you shoot it [the laser] really hard, the material violently breaks off into pieces— into big chunks.”
The goal of Murray’s research is to get cellular material from tissue samples, by using this laser ablation technology. Once the material is ablated, Murray will examine the cellular material to determine its origin.
Murray plans to use this ablated cellular material for single-cell analysis. He has already received funding from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, for an atomic force microscope to advance the development of single-cell mass spectrometry.
“Getting analysis on a single-cell level is a big thing for NIH because not every cell is the same or acts the same,” said Murray. “Single-cell mass spectrometry would be beneficial to NIH for working with tumors and could help improve diagnostics processes.”
Currently, Murray has a pending patent for his work, but he wants to share the progress he’s made with everyone.
“We [Murry and his team] have a provisional patent that’s been revised and has a one year lock. It’s hard because I want to tell everyone about my research, but I don’t want to disclose the technology.”
Professor Murray isn’t the only person involved in patentable ground-breaking work at LSU. Chemistry Professor John Pojman and LSU AgCenter Professor Daniel Hayes have teamed up to create a product that could potentially change the way we treat bone-related health issues.
Pojman and Hayes are working to create a bone foam-synthetic composite bone graft made of biocompatible polymers. The material, if successful, could be injected into people where it would react to create a bone-like material.
The creation of this foam-synthetic material came from the idea to make a substance that could harden quickly and have people with bone defects up and walking within an hour. The formulation that Pojman has made is relatively non-toxic, which means it can be injected into the body without causing damage. Hayes learned this when he ran tests on his animal models. However, potential partners have requested more statistical data showing that the foam-synthetic material works.
Pojman and Hayes are primarily using their LIFT2 grant money to run more animal models to get a more conclusive statistical analysis of their material. The hope is that the experiment will demonstrate that the foam-synthetic material can be injected in the human system and eventually disintegrate and help leave natural bone.
If successful, bone cancer patients, car accident victims and any one dealing with a major bone defect could use the bone-foam .
“The LIFT2 grant has helped a lot because this kind of research is not something that you can get a federal grant for,” said Hayes. “They [federal grant opportunities] don’t see it so much as a scientific question, but rather a commercialization question and that’s not something that NIH would support directly,” said Hayes.
Nonetheless, Pojman and Hayes are another example of how beneficial the LIFT2 grant has been for LSU’s research initiatives. Without it, a lot of research could go undeveloped stalling the cultivation of innovative research at LSU.