NIH Neuro Start-Up Challenge Winners Announced

Guest post by Kayt Sukel

Late last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) partnered with the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI), a non-profit group specializing in technology transfer, and the Heritage Provider Network, a California-based healthcare provider, to bring some of the NIH’s most promising brain-based technologies to market via a contest:  the Neuro Start-Up Challenge. More than 70 entrepreneurial teams participated in this crowd-sourced competition, working through multiple phases—including an Internet vote open to the public—to convince the event’s organizers and judges that they should be the trusted start-up venture to help the commercialization of one of sixteen innovative inventions.

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Cerebral Malaria: A Wily Foe…8 Years Later

guest post by Kayt Sukel

With today’s headlines awash with tales of measles and the Ebola virus, it can be easy to forget that malaria, an infectious disease caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum, remains one of the most deadly diseases on the planet. According to the World Health Organization, more than 600,000 people died of malaria in 2012—the majority attributed to the most severe form of the disease, cerebral malaria. One of malaria’s biggest mysteries is why some people develop the cerebral form of the disease, in which the malarial parasites invade the blood vessels around the brain, and then recover, while others with this form, many of them young children, will die of the infection.

Dr. Terrie Taylor, Michigan State University, takes vitals on a child in the pediatric malaria ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Africa. Photo by Jim Peck, MSU

Dr. Terrie Taylor, Michigan State University, takes vitals on a child in the pediatric malaria ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Africa. Photo by Jim Peck, MSU

In 2008, I spoke with Terrie Taylor, DO, about her clinical work with cerebral malaria patients in Malawi. She explained how cerebral malaria is a “tricky disease,” but was optimistic that researchers would have a clearer picture of how Plasmodium falciparum occupy the brain’s blood vessels in five to ten years. One of her most important goals was to understand what might be different in the brains of those who died of the disease from those who survived. Now, eight years after my Cerebrum story “Cerebral Malaria:  A Wily Foe” was published, Taylor and colleagues have published a groundbreaking neuroimaging study in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighting one of those key differences.

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NIH and Center for Advancing Innovation Launch Neuro Start-Up Challenge

Guest post by Kayt Sukel

The mission of the National Institutes of Health is to “seek fundamental knowledge and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” But the vast majority of research projects funded by NIH, despite their viability as potential treatments, won’t make it to clinical trials or commercial development because it lacks the money.

“You have to understand that the research that comes out of the NIH are very early stage projects—we’re a basic research discovery kind of organization,” says Thomas Stackhouse, associate director of the National Cancer Institute’s Technology Transfer Center. “So it’s very hard to get pharmaceutical companies or other organizations to partner around those discoveries no matter how promising they may be. The risk is just too high. But if we could create a start-up that can take one of these opportunities and run with it through some of the initial studies, it may be a good model to bring many more of these innovative technologies to market.”

To do so, NIH has partnered with two groups, the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI), a non-profit group that spurs technology transfer, and the Heritage Provider Network, a California-based healthcare provider network, to sponsor the Neuro Start-Up Challenge. The challenge uses a crowd-sourced competition to find the best start-up companies to exploit some of the institutes’ most promising brain-related discoveries. Continue reading

Dana Newsletter: December

Below is the content that appeared in the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

You Say You Want a Revolution?

by Wise Young, M.D., Ph.D., and Patricia Morton, Ph.D.

From the frontlines of spinal cord research, the authors lean on lessons from the past, their own experience, and events still unfolding as they raise questions about the future of all scientific research. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

See also: Q&A with Wise Young

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Susana Martinez-Conde receives SfN 2014 Science Educator Award

SfN President Carol Mason presented Susana Martinez-Conde with the award on Saturday.

SfN President Carol Mason presented Susana Martinez-Conde with the award on Saturday.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) awarded its Science Educator Award to Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD, of the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center. SfN President Carol Mason presented her the award on Saturday during the group’s annual meeting, in Washington, DC. This is the first year the Dana Foundation has sponsored this award.

I met Dr. Martinez-Conde last month, when she was a panelist at an eye-opening event on the science behind illusions. Visual experience and other illusions are the subject of her research and a popular-science book, Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, written with her co-investigator and husband Stephen L. Macknik. They also write the popular Illusions column for Scientific American. Their close collaboration with top professional illusionists like James (The Amazing) Randi, Mac King, and Teller started at a conference they organized in 2007, but we spoke about an earlier conference, where her ideas for outreach started to grow.

Q: Was it a conscious decision of yours to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Susana Martinez-Conde: I would say that it kind of started as an accident. But it has been so rewarding at all levels, personally and professionally.

In 2004, I was organizing the annual European Conference on Visual Perception, which was to be held in my home city of A Coruña, in Spain. Growing up there, I think, had to do with why I’m interested in science education today. Even now, it’s a relatively small city, less than 300,000 people, but it has a very large concentration of science museums. And it has one of the first interactive museums, the Casa de las Ciencias, the Home of Sciences. The director, RamónNúñez Centella at the time, was a major influence in science education and outreach in Spain. For me, it was a five minute walk from where I lived.

So as I was organizing this conference in my home town, I thought it would be nice to extend it, and include some public outreach. So I contacted Mr. Núñez and we established a collaboration with, at the time, the three science museums of the city. We held events that were open for the public at some of these museums.

We also had the idea to hold a contest for “The Best Illusion of the Year.” It was supposed to have been a one‑time event, but the public reception and the academic community reception were just so huge that we decided to make this an annual event. Continue reading

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