Grants Awarded to Advance Innovations to Commercial Opportunities

The University of California, Davis, is awarding $450,000 to help scientists advance compelling research and innovations toward commercial applications through two proof-of-concept grant programs. To date, these programs have delivered $2.9 million to help campus innovators overcome the primary hurdle of access to funding during one of the most challenging phases in new technology development.

The Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIR) grant program provides awards of up to $50,000 to campus innovators to enable demonstration of early proof-of-concept for technologies being developed at the university.

The second program, the Food Systems Innovation (FSI) award program, is a collaboration between Venture Catalyst and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) providing $25,000 to fund innovative technology advancements aimed at addressing global nutritional challenges.

In addition to receiving grants, recipients participate in a structured entrepreneurial training program, such as the Entrepreneurship Academy hosted by the UC Davis Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship or the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program for an immersive short course training on the customer discovery methodology. Awardees are also paired with experienced business mentors to provide guidance on commercial translation.

“These grants provide a path for bold ideas to reach commercial applications benefiting the public that may otherwise have sat idle,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for Research. “We know that the availability of funding is hard to come by at the early stage, so our program offers a mechanism to evaluate and fund those with the greatest potential.”

The STAIR grant program is funded by the UC Davis Office of Research and managed by Venture Catalyst. The UC Davis School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Biological Sciences and College of Letters and Science also committed supplemental funding to awardees from their respective academic units. The FSI award program was funded by the IIFH.

External review committees consisting of industry professionals, investors and experienced entrepreneurs, assembled by Venture Catalyst, reviewed the proposals and recommended the recipients of the STAIR awards.

2022 STAIR grant recipients

Human health

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A novel treatment for osteoporosis using skeletal stem/progenitor cells
Fernando Fierro
Assistant Adjunct Professor
Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy

Fierro and team are proposing a novel stem cell-based cell replacement strategy that holds the potential to restore the skeletal integrity to prevent and treat osteoporosis. Their approach addresses the limitation of current therapies —focused only on repairing targeted areas — by offering a mechanism to systemically replenish bone mineral density.

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Novel end-to-end anastomotic device (N2N) for rapid and efficient vascular anastomosis
Clifford Pereira
Associate Professor
Department of Surgery

Clifford Pereira (Plastic Surgery), Gavin Pereira (Orthopedic Surgery) and Jonathon Schofield (College of Engineering) have invented and successfully tested a novel device to reconnect blood vessels for revascularization during surgery. Currently, surgeons connect blood vessels using a needle and suture, which is challenging and subject to human error. Pereira and team aim to automate the process using a pneumatically deployed stapling device.

Animal health

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Using artificial intelligence to interpret blood tests in veterinary medicine
Stefan Keller
Assistant Professor
Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology

Keller and team are developing a machine learning algorithm that incorporates artificial intelligence and historical patient data to reduce errors associated with the interpretation of blood tests that can lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. While the initial application is used for dogs, the team sees an opportunity to adapt the tool for other species.

Environmental health and sustainability

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High efficiency polymer heat exchangers for a low carbon built environment
Vinod Narayanan
Director, Western Cooling Efficiency Center
Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Narayanan and team are developing a heat exchange system capable of reducing electricity consumption and carbon emissions related to the cooling and heating of buildings. The team plans to use funds to implement improvements to an existing proof-of-concept model funded by the Office of Naval Research and California Energy Commission. The goal of this second-generation version is to improve the performance metric of heat exchange to pumping power by 37.5 percent.

Computing, electronics and information systems

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Development of a smart insect early detection and control technology to be ready for commercialization
Zhongli Pan
Adjunct Professor
Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering

The goal of this project is to complete the development of a wireless, cloud-based system that provides early detection of insects for use in the food supply industry. The technology aims to reduce loss and damage due to infestation during the storage, processing, handling and transportation of food.

Food, agricultural systems and nutrition

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Engineered histone readers: disruptive technology for epigenomics
Grey Monroe
Assistant Professor
Department of Plant Sciences

Monroe and team are developing a method to improve a process used in the growing field of epigenomics — where a cell’s DNA or histones are modified to affect gene expression without altering the DNA sequence.  The current process relies on the use of antibodies, which have limited applications due to their expense, inconsistent quality and specificity. Monroe’s team is developing engineered histone readers as an alternative to antibodies to broaden the applications and remove those constraints.

2022 Food Systems Innovation Award recipients

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Optimization of the pilot scale production steps of novel protein-based cooling media
Luxin Wang
Associate Professor
Department of Food Science and Technology

Wang and team have developed a reusable coolant (“Jelly Ice Cubes”) to provide a more environmentally friendly solution for the global cold food supply chain. This new generation of cooling media is nature-based, plastic-free, reusable, sustainable, microbial-resistant and biodegradable with comparable cooling efficiency to traditional ice.

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Using duckweed protein hydrolysates and phenolics as functional ingredients
Selina Wang
Associate Professor of Cooperative Extension
Department of Food Science and Technology

Wang and team are targeting an opportunity in the use of natural, functional foods as an alternative to synthetic drugs for the treatment of diabetes and hypertension. Their approach utilizes an aquatic plant, duckweed to create a protein hydrolysate powder enriched with phenolic compounds. Duckweed can yield ten times more protein per acre than soy, while requiring less water and nutrient inputs.

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Rapid, portable, inexpensive lipid oxidation measurement for food quality assessment
Elizabeth Mitcham
Professor of Extension
Department of Plant Sciences

Mitcham is developing a device that enables rapid, portable, non-destructive measurement of lipid oxidation in lipid containing ingredients, such as nuts, seeds, flours, and oils. The device is constructed from low-cost components and can rapidly (2-5 minutes) analyze samples with little or no time-consuming pre-processing.

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