From lab to marketplace-Colorado School of Mines helps turn ideas into businesses

A Colorado School of Mines professor has developed a test that can identify anthrax cases in just hours versus days and pinpoint E.coli in meat, salmonella in chicken and tuberculosis cases in Third World countries.

By Jennifer Beauprez, Denver Post Business Writer

Professor Kent Voorhees has developed a faster way to detect dangerous pathogens. A Colorado School of Mines program is helping him transform his research into a commercial product.

But as the first Mines faculty member in 26 years to take his research idea and turn it into a business, professor Kent Voorhees himself is being tested.

Voorhees is the first graduate of Mines’ nascent technology transfer program, which supports researchers’ efforts to parlay heady concepts into solid business plans.

The Golden school has licensed research to companies outside of Colorado. But in its history, 185 faculty members produced just 20 patents, and until now, none of those ideas spun off into a new Colorado business.

Voorhees’ company, MicroPhage Inc., promises to create 100 local manufacturing jobs and change how the world detects dangerous pathogens before they spread or kill people.

But the company first must get $1 million from investors and await the results of outside studies by academics at top universities who could lend credibility to Voorhees’ idea.

He touts a method of introducing viruses in test tubes to various samples of bacteria. And instead of waiting hours or days for plaques to form – as with existing tests – MicroPhage’s test will identify proteins in the virus. That difference could shorten the time it takes to identify bacteria to as little as 20 minutes.

MicroPhage plans to sell $25 test kits to food suppliers and environmental and biomedical laboratories. The gear those industries now use to test costs closer to $125,000.

"There’s enormous potential for this technology," said MicroPhage chief executive Jack Wheeler. "Quite honestly, there is a gold mine at the School of Mines that hasn’t been accessed."

That is starting to change, thanks to Rahmat Shoureshi, a professor of engineering.

After discovering two years ago that there was no support, no network and no defined legal documents to license his own research for a startup, Shoureshi agreed to become the one-man technology transfer office for the university.

"We want to show the community the impact of research – the economic impact," said Shoureshi, who created a device to remotely identify and repair problems in telephone networks.

The initiative taken by Shoureshi and Voorhees delights Gov. Bill Owens’ incoming secretary of technology, John Hansen. He has been working with Colorado’s universities to boost technology transfer – or turn research into commercial products.

Hansen said recruiting new companies to the state isn’t enough to help Colorado’s tech economy rebound.

"The real spark of innovation comes from universities," Hansen said. "It creates an environment of startups and smart people coming in. These companies grow up to become big companies."

To help faculty, Shoureshi created a board made up of other professors who review technologies for licensing and another committee made up of government officials, former CEOs and investors who can give advice and help.

Voorhees has been the School of Mines’ guinea pig. He and partner Wheeler spent a year drawing up legal documents to transfer the technology and give a stake in the business to the School of Mines.

In exchange for the school’s ownership, MicroPhage will get access for a year to Voorhees’ university laboratory stocked with $2 million worth of equipment.

"We are the first and we have gone through a lot of pain that future people probably will not," Voorhees said. "It’s an exciting experience."

So is the promise of Voorhees’ technology.

In 2001, a Florida photographer died 3 days after he inhaled anthrax spores. It took two days to diagnose him with the illness.

Voorhees’ test could have identified that case in less than an hour, and the man could have been given antibiotics earlier, increasing his chances for survival.

Similarly, it now takes as long as a day to identify E.coli in ground beef – enough time for the contaminated meat to ship across the country. Voorhees said his test takes less than an hour.

And tests to identify cholera and tuberculosis in developing nations can also take days, increasing the likelihood that the infected people may not be found once the results come in.

Voorhees said his test, in addition to taking less time, would be as simple to administer as a home pregnancy kit. It wouldn’t require costly laboratories or experienced workers.

Yet one expert cautioned that fast isn’t always best.

"I don’t know of any laboratory test that is foolproof," said Burton Wilcke, a biomedical technology professor at the University of Vermont.

Wilcke said companies using the test must make sure it is conducted by experienced people. Even the simplest things can change the results, such as holding the agents too long or at the wrong temperatures. A person who is colorblind might misread test results.

"In this kind of setup, one cannot afford to have false negatives or false positives," he said.

Voorhees said MicroPhage would provide training to ensure accuracy. "We’re keenly aware of the problem," he said.

How well Voorhees’ company overcomes these challenges will be watched by a line of new companies poised to fledge from the School of Mines.

One firm, Metafluidics, has developed microscopic pumps and valves that will deliver drugs and analyze blood inside a patient’s body. The pumps are controlled by laser beams.

Another firm is working to create a shoe insole for people with diabetes. The insole would create artificial stimulation to prevent ulcers that in some cases can lead to foot amputation.,1413,36~33~1429190,00.html

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.