LLNL wins four tech transfer regional awards

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has again received recognition this year for its work to move breakthrough technologies into the commercial marketplace.

Livermore researchers and tech transfer professionals garnered four awards in the Federal Laboratory Consortium's (FLC) Far West Regional competition.

This year's awards, presented last week during the FLC's three-day regional meeting in San Diego, included honors for outstanding technology development, two for outstanding partnerships and for outstanding commercialization. LLNL has won 22 Far West Regional awards since 2007.

The FLC is the nationwide network of federal laboratories that provides a forum to develop strategies and opportunities for linking laboratory mission technologies with the marketplace.

Started in 1974, today the FLC has about 300 federal laboratories and research centers as members of the consortium.

Material allows aerosol experiments

A team of LLNL scientists and engineers has developed a safe and versatile material, known as DNA Tagged Reagents for Aerosol Experiments (DNATrax) , that can be used to reliably and rapidly diagnose airflow patterns and problems in both indoor and outdoor venues. Their work won an "outstanding technology development" award in the FLC judging.

Until DNATrax particles were developed, no rapid or safe way existed to validate air transport models with realistic particles in the range of 1-10 microns.

Successful DNATrax testing was conducted at the Pentagon in November 2012 in conjunction with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. This study enhanced the team's understanding of indoor ventilation environments created by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

DNATrax are particles comprised of sugar and synthetic DNA that serve as a bar code for the particle. The potential for creating unique bar-coded particles is virtually unlimited, thus allowing for simultaneous and repeated releases, which dramatically reduces the costs associated with conducting tests for contaminants.

Among the applications for the new material are indoor air quality detection, for homes, offices, ships and airplanes; urban particulate tracking for subway stations, train stations and convention centers and environmental release tracking.

Among the Livermore scientists who developed DNATrax are the team leader George Farquar, Elizabeth Wheeler, Ruth Udey, Beth Vitalis, Roald Leif, Brian Baker, Christine Hara, Cindy Thomas, Maxim Shusteff and Sally Hall.

Rapid detection of pathogens

Scientists from LLNL and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have partnered to develop a rapid method for detecting viable anthrax-causing spores . Their collaboration netted the team an "outstanding partnership" award.

The need for processing large numbers of samples - and doing it speedily - was demonstrated during the 2001 congressional building anthrax contamination when more than 10,000 environmental samples were analyzed, and the facility reopening was significantly delayed pending sample results.

The new analysis method, called the Rapid Viability Polymerase Chain Reaction (RV-PCR), combines high-throughput sample processing with a real-time PCR method, performed before and after a short incubation step, to distinguish live from dead pathogens for faster results than the current gold-standard, culture-based method.

Current testing methods require more labor and time, so that only about 30 samples may be processed per day, with confirmed results in about two days. The RV-PCR technology permits more than 150 samples to be processed in 48 hours for confirmed results, with some data as early as 15 hours.

In addition, the RV-PCR method is cost-effective, semi-automated (so that better safety is provided for the analysts) and less prone to interference by outgrowth of other microbes.

Among other possible applications of the technology are: rapid verification of disinfection of hospital and clinical surfaces and devices; determining the safety of food products and food processing areas based on the absence of live bacterial pathogens; and verifying the safety of public drinking water supplies for absence of water-borne, disease-causing bacteria.

Efforts are now under way to transition the technology to Environmental Laboratory Response Network laboratories in the event of a possible future anthrax attack.

Members of the RV-PCR team included Staci Kane, Sonia Letant, Gloria Murphy and Teneile Alfaro of LLNL and Sanjiv Shah of the EPA.

A partnership for studying climate change

LLNL and 11 partner institutions have developed the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) to serve the data-driven needs of the climate research community. The collaboration was honored as an "outstanding partnership."

The ESGF supports the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) , which was established in 1995 by the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modeling to provide a community-based infrastructure for global climate model diagnosis, validation, intercomparison and data access.

CMIP simulation model runs are key components of the periodic assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC - and the scientists whose research supported the IPCC, including those from the ESGF - shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Through ESGF, scientists are able to analyze coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models in a systematic fashion, a process that also serves to facilitate model improvement. Simulation model runs for the latest incarnation of CMI -- CMIP phase 5 or CMIP5 -- were essential for the 2013 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

To date, ESGF has made available more than 60 large-scale CMIP5 simulation model runs (more than 1.8 petabytes of data) from 27 worldwide climate research centers spanning 21 countries. ESGF portals are gateways to scientific data collections hosted at sites around the globe that allow the user to register and access the entire ESGF network of data and services. The open-source ESGF is used by virtually the entire climate research community.

In addition to LLNL, which leads the ESGF effort, partners in the federation include Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the German Climate Computing Center, the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, the British Atmospheric Data Centre, Goddard Space Flight Center, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace.

LLNL's Dean N. Williams is the principal investigator for the ESGF.

Technology commercialized

In 2008, a Pleasanton, Calif. start-up company called QuantaLife licensed an LLNL technology, digital polymerase chain reaction, a refinement of real-time PCR, that allows researchers to quantify and amplify nucleic acids, including DNA and RNA.

Livermore Business Development Executive (BDE) Catherine Elizondo and former BDE Ida Shum worked with LLNL researchers and QuantaLife to negotiate and manage the license agreement and business relationships. The work of the Lab's Industrial Partnerships Office, QuantaLife and its successor company was tapped as an "outstanding commercialization success."

The founder of QuantaLife and the co-inventor of the technology is a former LLNL employee, Bill Colston. As QuantaLife's CEO, Colston raised multiple rounds of private funding and grew the company from four founders in 2008 to more than 60 employees by 2011.

The company was unanimously selected as the "most promising company" at the Personalized Medicine World Conference in 2010. QuantaLife commercialized the Droplet Digital(TM) Polymer Chain Reaction (ddPCR) system, the most accurate genetic analysis platform available.

"The revolutionary potential of QuantaLife's technology will ultimately empower researchers and clinicians to answer longstanding, fundamental and complex systems biology questions, ushering in a new era of digital molecular diagnostic capabilities," Colston said.

While both digital and traditional real-time PCR methods carry out one amplification reaction per single sample, with ddPCR the sample is separated into a large number of partitions and the amplification is carried out in each partition individually. By partitioning the sample and eliminating background interference, the researcher is able to collect a more reliable and sensitive measurement of low concentrations of nucleic acid that may not have been detectable using real-time PCR.

QuantaLife's products drew the attention of Bio-Rad, headquartered in Hercules, Calif. In 2011, Bio-Rad acquired QuantaLife and its assets for $162 million in cash and future milestone payments.