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Implanting An Idea

A UO physics professor who recently won a research competition with his idea for artificial human implants is using the award as a springboard to seek funding to expand research on the concept.

The proposal from Professor Richard Taylor (pictured) is under review before being submitted to the Los Angeles-based W.M. Keck Foundation for possible funding.

Taylor discussed the research in a TEDxUOregon talk April 19 on the creative power of integrating research from different disciplines.

The proposal grew out of a competition seeking ideas for new technologies for life sciences research. The competition was offered by InnoCentive, a Massachusetts company that uses crowdsourcing – soliciting support through a vast online audience – to try to solve social and scientific problems.

Taylor’s research involves development of artificial human implants using “interconnects” that mimic the biological circuitry used by the body. Taylor was in Sweden recently, working on a retinal implant project at Lund University.

“Imagine a world in which damaged parts of the body – an arm, or an eye, or even a region of the brain – can be replaced by artificial implants capable of restoring or even enhancing human performance,” Taylor wrote, in the introduction to his InnoCentive proposal.

After winning the competition, Taylor was invited to a meeting convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in March. The director of the Materials Science Institute, Taylor studies natural patterns known as fractals in physics, psychology, physiology, geography, architecture and art.

Also invited to the meeting was Matt Beaudet, CEO of NemaMetrix, a Eugene-based firm that has developed a microfluidic device that could help speed the creation of new medicines. Headquartered in the Fertilab Thinkubator startup space, the company was spun out of UO biology Professor Shawn Lockery’s research.

NemaMetrix came in second in the InnoCentive competition. The two proposals beat out more than 900 other submissions.

InnoCentive seeks to connect “solvers” like Taylor and Beaudet with funding agencies. The agencies behind the life sciences research challenge included the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the W.M. Keck Foundation, The Kavli Foundation, The Templeton Foundation and The Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Beaudet says his company’s microfluidic device, also called a “worm chip,” could replace the use of mice in drug development and help provide global health solutions for the 2 billion to 3 billion people with parasitic worm infections. It allows researchers to quickly test drugs using tiny roundworms known as nematodes that are captured in the small chip.

NemaMetrix has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute.

At the March meeting in Washington, D.C., Taylor and Beaudet each gave five-minute presentations on their winning ideas. The meeting included a general discussion about how to promote funding for the interface between the physical and life sciences.

“This area is seen as having huge potential for U.S. science,” Taylor said. “This includes technologies that can interface with living systems. A striking thing to emerge was the importance of using interdisciplinary teams and to encourage interdisciplinary thinkers.”

Beaudet said his firm valued the chance to talk directly with the policy makers shaping the government’s scientific funding plan.

“As an early stage startup it is incredibly valuable to have the support of such a large group of scientific funding agencies,” Beaudet said.

—By Greg Bolt

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