New innovation fund creates avenue for translational research

The NemaMetrix ScreenChip

The timeline for translating some UO research innovations into new products and businesses is about to get shorter thanks to a new seed grant program announced by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

The VPRI Innovation Fund will provide grants of $25,000 to $75,000 to qualifying UO faculty members to cover the direct cost of “translational” research projects. Translational research involves transforming fundamental research into more commercially viable products and services.

“To further ignite innovation at the UO, we are launching this program that will provide funding to support proof-of-concept work on commercializing discoveries stemming from UO research,” Conover said, in announcing the program during his Oct. 15 state of research address.

Successful translational research efforts can give rise to companies such as NemaMetrix, a UO spinoff that grew out of research in the laboratory of Shawn Lockery, a professor in the Department of Biology. Lockery was one of the first recipients of translational research funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

The company’s ScreenChip System is based on Lockery’s original “worm chip” device and can be used for screening drugs and developing new disease therapeutics.

“Translational research is often difficult to fund because it falls in the gap between research funded by federal agencies and the more product-oriented goals of commercial entities,” said Chuck Williams, the UO’s associate vice president for innovation. “This program helps our faculty to bridge that gap, making it more likely that we can bring promising discoveries to market.”

Potential projects could include everything from an app that helps reduce suicide risks to a sensor that reduces agricultural pollution to an intervention that helps struggling students read, but all applications will be considered, Williams said. Awardees of VPRI Innovation Fund grants are expected to pursue additional funding, and Williams said the program provides a portal to external funding sources such as industry and state and federal grants for small business research innovation and small business technology transfers.

Applications for the fund are open on a rolling basis to all faculty researchers with pre-existing disclosures to the UO’s Innovation Partnership Services unit or those that are under project management agreements. Innovation Partnership Services works with UO faculty members, the public and industry to accelerate the adoption of innovations derived from UO research and education. To apply or to learn more about eligibility for the VPRI fund, download the program instructions or contact Innovation Partnership Services.  

The VPRI Innovation Fund is supported by the Innovation Partnership Services unit, along with donations to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and funds from the UO’s University Venture Development II Fund.