Michael McClure wearing a lab coat and gloves holding equipment at a work station
Michael McClure, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering, shifted his postdoctoral studies to study muscle tissue because he wanted to improve the quality of life of veterans who had lost their full range of motion. (Daniel Wagner, VCU Engineering)

Innovation Gateway supports six new projects with the Commercialization Fund

Funding helps VCU faculty innovators move their research closer to the marketplace.

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A Virginia Commonwealth University researcher who switched from cardiovascular bioengineering to skeletal muscle research after seeing how difficult it was for some U.S. veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan to lift a cup of coffee is among six researchers who received a VCU Commercialization Fund award from Innovation Gateway.

While working at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Michael McClure, Ph.D., now an assistant professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering, shifted his postdoctoral studies to study muscle tissue, wanting to improve the veterans’ quality of life by restoring their full range of motion.

McClure began his effort by studying volumetric muscle loss injuries and then transitioning that research to one of the most common muscle injuries: the rotator cuff. Patients with rotator cuff injuries lose the “bridge” between the muscle and tendon, hindering their ability to complete simple tasks and limiting their range of motion. He is developing a technology that uses scaffold materials that target that bridge, reconnecting the muscle and tendon and allowing the patient to build muscle instead of losing it. This will lead to a better recovery in rotator cuff injury patients.

Although there are other technologies that use similar singular cell scaffolds, none is muscle specific. They focus more on the tendons and bones. “There's not really anything else like this that’s out there in the market,” McClure said. “I firmly believe that something that's muscle specific will give you muscle specific outcomes that are going to be well received by the surrounding tissue,” which will result in better recovery in these types of injuries.

With support from the Commercialization Fund, McClure will be able to enhance the technology further, researching how different cells react with the scaffold. That will guide his research team to determine how cells in the body will actually react when the technology is implanted.

The other five researchers who received funding this spring from Innovation Gateway span across disciplines and departments throughout the university. Two recipients’ proposals focus on virtual reality technologies. Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and in the Department of Surgery in the School of Medicine, is developing a virtual reality technology called Grit VR to combat burnout and reduce stress for health care workers, while Lauren N. Siff, M.D., an assistant professor in both the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Surgery in the School of Medicine, is building a VR platform for surgical training.

Others who received funding are:

  • Guizhi Zhu, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy, won continued support for a technology that uses short single strands of synthetic DNA or RNA (oligonucleotide) immunotherapy for cancer and other infectious diseases.
  • Youzhong Guo, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the School of Pharmacy, for a technology of a series of native cell membrane nanoparticle polymers that can be used for extraction of membrane proteins without the use of detergents. Currently, membrane protein research and related drug discovery rely heavily on detergents, which destabilize membrane proteins, leading to problems in the membrane protein structural biology.
  • Worth Longest, Ph.D., the Louis S. and Ruth S. Harris Exceptional Scholar Professor at the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in the College of Engineering, for a dry powder aerosol device for targeted nasal drug delivery. Learn more about how this technology can deliver advanced drugs to those in need.

"Innovation Gateway is pleased to support these VCU inventors, whose projects demonstrate a commitment to the university’s efforts to improve the human condition through the four initiatives of the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan: enriching the human experience, achieving a just and equitable society, optimizing health and supporting sustainable energy and environments,” said Ivelina S. Metcheva, Ph.D., assistant vice president for innovation.Innovation Gateway facilitates the commercialization of university inventions for the benefit of the public by fostering VCU's culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, helping advance inventions to a more mature and licensable stage, and developing strategic industry and investor relationships.

With the launch of the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan, the Commercialization Fund was expanded by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation from a total of up to $300,000 awarded annually to $500,000. The awards are given twice a year, in the spring and fall.

For more information about the Commercialization Fund or Innovation Gateway, please contact Innovation Gateway at ott@vcu.edu or (804) 828-5188.