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Kauffman Foundation Names First Class of Postdoctoral Fellows

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This article was originally published on Aug. 10.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation last week named 13 postdoctoral researchers from various US academic institutions to its first class of Kauffman Postdoctoral Fellows.

Fellows will participate in a year-long program that features entrepreneurial education and mentorship to help commercialize their scientific discoveries, the majority of which are in the life sciences.

In a statement, Lesa Mitchell, vice president of advancing innovation at Kauffman, said that the program is intended to address the fact that "the critical role that scientists play in the economy has been compromised." While many of the 48,000 postdoctoral researchers in the United States are doing cutting-edge scientific research, Kauffman said, few understand the basics of the commercialization process.

"The work being done by each fellow has enormous potential to benefit society," Mitchell said. "By teaching the fellows how to become scientist-founders, we hope that the fellowship will serve as a springboard into the market, helping these innovators fulfill their entrepreneurial potential."

As part of the program, Kauffman will provide each fellow with a salary and benefits to support their research over the course of the year-long fellowship. In addition, the foundation has matched each fellow with an academic advisor to mentor him or her on matters "beyond research;" and an experienced investor or corporate leader to serve as a business mentor.

During the fellowship, each fellow will also undertake an industry internship suited to his or her research interests and objectives, Kauffman said.

The 2008-2009 fellows, along with their university affiliations and a brief description of their research, are:

• Ankit Agarwal, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Agarwal's researches the application of material sciences to biomedical applications. He has developed novel gels of liquid crystals that provide a portable and passive method to optically detect biomolecules and environmental agents such as poisonous warfare gases.

• Vijay Chandrasekharan, University of Florida. Chandrasekharan designed and demonstrated functionality of a shear stress sensor for aerodynamic drag and flow rate measurements. His current research focuses on further developing the shear stress sensor for use in wind tunnel facilities at the National Space and Aeronautics Administration.

• David Gruber, Brown University, City University of New York. Gruber's research pertains to fluorescent proteins on coral reefs, and he recently co-led an expedition to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef that resulted in the cloning of twenty-eight of the roughly 120 fluorescent proteins discovered from marine organisms. He has conducted research to develop these fluorescent proteins into modulatable probes with neurobiological and medical applications.

• Yash Kolambkar, Georgia Institute of Technology. Kolambkar has a technology commercialization certificate from the Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results program at Georgia Tech and Emory Law School, through which he developed a commercialization plan for his PhD technology for restoring cartilage in osteoarthritic patients.

• Riccardo LoCascio, University of California, Davis. LoCascio is the manager of industry partnerships and commercial development for the functional glycobiology program at the University of California-Davis. His research is focused on understanding the functional role of human milk oligosaccharides.

• Timothy Marzullo, University of Michigan. Marzullo currently has a dual appointment as a postdoc at UM, investigating the role of vascular damage on the performance of neural electrodes; and as a research engineer for NeuroNexus Technologies, a company specializing in high-fidelity neural interfaces.

• Samuel Mazin, Stanford University. Mazin's PhD in electrical engineering focused on the design of a novel X-ray computed tomography system, and he is currently pursuing commercialization of his most recent invention relating to radiation therapy.

• Franklin Moutos, Duke University. Moutos is developing new technologies to treat degenerative joint diseases, primarily through the tissue engineering of articular cartilage.

• Christopher Rex, University of California, Irvine. Rex investigates the basic molecular and cellular underpinnings of neuronal networks and memory encoding in the mammalian brain, and is currently developing methods to identify brain-wide biochemical events related to memory encoding and neuropsychiatric dysfunction in rodent models.

• Carolina Salvador Morales, Harvard Medical School. Morales studies the immunocompatibility properties of nanotherapeutics for cancer therapy, and the development of new types of vaccines based on nanoparticle platform technology.

• Praveen Kumar Vemula, Harvard Medical School. Vemula's doctoral research focused on developing catalysts for decontamination reactions and involved detailed experimental and computational studies. He has also developed a platform technology to create prodrug-based hydrogels to treat inflammatory arthritis, brain tumors, and inner ear disease; and to prevent contact dermatitis.

• Yevgen Voronenko, Carnegie Mellon University. Voronenko's research interests include scientific computing, software engineering, programming languages, and compiler design.

• Mehdi Yazdanpanah, University of Louisville. During his doctoral studies, Yazdanpanah co-invented a procedure to selectively grow nanoneedles on atomic force microscopy tips. He currently constructs nanoneedle-tipped probes and arrays of probes, and is devising and demonstrating new applications of the probes.

Fellows were selected from a pool of 115 applicants by an advisory panel comprising successful scientist-founders and Kauffman Foundation fellows with expertise in scientific innovation and entrepreneurship, the foundation said.

Members of the panel include John Adler of Stanford University; Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University; Frank Douglas of PureTech Ventures and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Biomedical Innovation; Eugene Fitzgerald of MIT; Louise Perkins of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation; Jay Watkins of De Novo Ventures; and Monica Doss, Bo Fishback, Sandy Miller, Mitchell, and Thom Ruhe of the Kauffman Foundation.

The fellowship will kick off with a workshop to be held Oct. 7-10 at the foundation's headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., where the fellows will hear presentations from members of the advisory panel and other entrepreneurship experts.

Kauffman announced the postdoctoral fellow program in January along with the Kauffman Entrepreneur Fellows program, which was to pair four prospective entrepreneurs with venture-creation companies ExploraMed, The Foundry, and PureTech Ventures to attempt to create startup companies around the entrepreneurs' ideas.

At the time, the foundation said that it would commit $5 million over four years to support both the postdoctoral fellow and entrepreneur fellow programs, though it did not specify how much money it would provide for each program.

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