The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer is a national network of federal laboratories that develops strategies and opportunities for connecting the labs to the marketplace. Since it was founded in 1984 it has sponsored awards to federal laboratories for projects that achieve excellence in this endeavor. This year, as in previous years, the Lab dominated the competition by winning three awards:
- Outstanding Technology Development
- Technology Transfer Professional of the Year
- Outstanding Commercialization Success
Outstanding Technology Development: MEMS-Based Adaptive Optics Optical Coherence Tomography
The National Eye Institute estimated that, by the year 2020, 5.5 million Americans age 40 and older will have an eye disease leading to blindness or poor vision. Prevention is possible through early diagnosis and treatment, but the problem is that it is impossible for doctors to see beneath the surface of the retina, into the area where these diseases originate -- until now. Lab scientists invented a way for ophthalmologists to take a 3D picture of the breadth and depth of the retina.
The Lab team of Diana Chen, Scot Olivier and Steven Jones of the Physical & Life Sciences Directorate, collaborated with the University of California, Davis, Indiana University and the Boston Micromachines Corporation to develop a system to observe and record ultra-high resolution, non-invasive, 3-D retinal images in real time.
The core technology is tomography, an X-ray like technique that makes multiple images of sections of something, in this case, the retina. These sections are then pieced together to create a 3D image of the retina.
Because the target is so small and the resolution needs to be so precise, optical-coherence tomography is merged with adaptive optics, a technology that reduces the distortions in optical systems by compensating for them.
Finally, all this technology needs to be packaged into a very small device that's less than 100 micrometers in any dimension so it can get near enough to the eye to work.
In 2010 this same technology won the R&D 100 Award as one of the most significant new technologies on the market. With the increasing population of aging baby boomers, the MEMS-based Adaptive Optics OCT will become an important tool for ophthalmologists, optometrists and scientists in improving the quality of life for people suffering from vision loss and blindness.
Catherine Elizondo: Technology Transfer Professional of the Year
Catherine Elizondo, a business development executive in the Lab's Industrial Partnerships Office, was selected as the Technology Transfer Professional of the Year.
Elizondo set a new Lab record for transferring seven technologies to companies in a single year. These licenses include national security technologies, particularly explosive detection kits and nuclear material detectors.
Elizondo's "excellent skills have made her the "go-to contact when inventors notify her of new research developments that lead to patentable and commercializable technologies," according to the award nomination. "She interacts at a nascent stage, assisting inventors with their funding opportunities as well as providing insights into company needs that could be filled by those technologies."
"Catherine works closely with our staff to ensure technologies and concepts are carefully evaluated for their technology transfer potential," said Randy Christensen, a Weapons and Complex Integration scientist. "We rely heavily on her judgment concerning the commercial viability of possible transfer candidates and on her thorough pursuit of potential licensing opportunities."
One of the technology transfer agreements Elizondo shepherded for the Lab went to Ortec, a division of Advanced Measurement Technology Inc. Ortec licensed Lab technology that it commercialized into a portable meter detecting illicit radioactive material. Ortec Executive Dave Martinez, said: "With Elizondo's help the Department of Energy's technology transfer mechanism is a reliable conduit for the commercialization of key radiation detection technologies."
Outstanding Commercialization Success: Glycophorin Cell Lines
During its history, the Lab has been a pioneer in biology and has invented hundreds of cell lines. The advent of the human genome project had uncovered many new uses for these cell lines and has attracted corporate interest. One of these cell lines can be used to produce a special monoclonal antibody that might help researchers better understand cancer and heart disease.
Glycophorin A is a protein that covers the outside of red blood cells. It is responsible for letting sugar in and out of the cell. Sometimes, this protein doesn't work correctly and cancer or heart disease can result. Recent data suggests exposure to toxins can cause a mutation of Glycophorin A.
Because Glycophorin A plays such an important role, scientists and researchers are very interested in finding out if it's behaving correctly or if it's mutated. The monoclonal antibody interacts with the Glycophorin A and reveals whether it is mutated. In this specific case, the antibody can be easily created using a cell line the Lab developed in 1984.
eBioscience, a company that sells products to researchers in the areas of cellular immunity and oncology, found out about the Lab's cell lines and contacted the Lab's IPO office in mid-2009. Ida Shum was one of the members of the IPO office assigned to find out if and how the Lab's intellectual property -- and the actual cell lines -- could be transferred to eBioscience. Lab scientist Cindy Thomas was integral in locating the cell lines and providing information on the original work done to validate them. The cell lines were transferred through a license to eBioscience and it quickly commercialized the technology and now sells detection kits.