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Jun 13, 2022

UNCW Research Innovation and Technology Portfolio

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This article was contributed by Justin T. Streuli, MBA, Director, UNCW Office of Innovation + Commercialization.
You’ve probably read about the recent growth and success of UNCW’s academic programs. UNCW ranks 96th on the U.S. News & World Report list of 2022 Top 100 Public National Universities and its enrollment has exceeded 18,000 students, a 40% growth over the past 12 years. But you may not be aware of how UNCW’s research has accelerated, earning the designation of R2: “Doctoral Universities: High Research Activity” in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The innovations developed by UNCW researchers may not be making the headlines yet, but they will be! Here are some of the exciting and diverse innovations and technologies coming out of the labs at UNCW.

UNCW has a strong portfolio of existing innovations that are impacting society and are available for license.

The MORPH Longitudinal Database developed by the UNCW Institute for Interdisciplinary Identity Sciences (I3S) is the largest longitudinal facial recognition database in the world and recently doubled in size. MORPH contains 400,000+ images of nearly 70,000 subjects, taken over time, and include metadata for age, gender, race, height, weight, and eye coordinates. MOPRH is available for academic and commercial license, with successful licensing to Fortune 500 companies and early-stage startups in verticals including software development, machine learning, cybersecurity, and more. Like MORPH, UNCW has available a family of patents titled “Demographics of Facial Landmarks” which outline a set of facial image annotations and training vectors mapped to facial images, a valuable technology for any kind of software using facial images including software development, machine learning, cybersecurity, and more. 

Have you heard of Red Tide, the harmful algae bloom that releases brevetoxins that negatively impact marine life and cause respiratory irritation in humans? UNCW researchers have been studying these organisms for decades and have developed a portfolio of patented compounds derived from these brevetoxins, that could create therapeutics to treat cystic fibrosis and other life-threatening lung diseases. UNCW is in the process of licensing this technology to a startup hoping to treat this disease that impacts hundreds of thousands of children worldwide.

UNCW was recently awarded patents focused on “Kits for Determining Sediment and Pore Water Toxicity with Dorman Zooplankton having Dormant Life Stage.” These kits can be used determine the toxicity of fresh water and marine sediments as a one-time analysis or as an analysis over time. This is a valuable tool for studying water quality and is available for license.

Another new patent titled “Human Waste Water and Human-Derived Pathogen Scouting Tool” is an easy to use and inexpensive tool for identifying human waste and pathogens in various types of water. This can be useful in residential and commercial water testing and is available for license. 

Beyond intellectual property, UNCW has an assortment of products available for sale. UNCW’s Shellfish hatchery is breeding the best oysters you can imagine while the Finfish Aquaculture Facility is cultivating beautiful Black Sea Bass while designing a practical process to grow these popular fish in a farm-raised environment. Elsewhere at the Center for Marine Science, the Algal Research Collection (ARC) houses one of the most expansive collections of toxic algae in the world. Researchers are also building testing kits, called ELISA kits, to help other researchers test for the harmful toxins these algae produce. All these products are available for purchase at UNCW. 

Along with this strong existing portfolio, there is an exciting collection of new innovations in their infancy at UNCW. 

mRNA therapeutics, like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, have an inherent challenge; they must be held long term at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, creating supply chain challenges that have resulted in hundreds of millions of unusable doses and make them inaccessible for many communities in need. By investigating this problem, UNCW researchers have developed a way to keep mRNA therapeutics stable at room temperature for weeks and even months, while developing additional innovative discoveries along the way. These additional discoveries include microneedle delivery systems, lab instruments, and more. The work is still in its early stages but could help reduce spoilage and increase access for this new therapeutic technology. The researchers developing these technologies were recently awarded an North Carolina Biotechnology Center Translational Research Grant and UNCW is drafting provisional patents for these discoveries. 

Another researcher in BioChemistry has been investigating a new way to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other microbial life that infect millions of people every year. The research has resulted in a family of compounds with promising early-stage results in antimicrobial, antifungal, and potential antibiotic applications. Titled “Compounds Having Selective Inactivation Activity,” UNCW is drafting a full utility patent for this family of compounds, which will be available for license. 

UNCW recently filed a patent titled “Portable Isometric Neck Assessment System and Method.” This portable device combines software and hardware to measure neck strength, which in combination with a strengthening program, can reduce mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) and other similar injuries in paratroopers, athletes, race car drivers, and others. The researchers developing this technology were recently awarded an North Carolina Biotechnology Center Translational Research Grant to further develop this innovation. This technology is available for license.

Researchers in the UNCW Psychology Department have been working on more effective ways to assess emotional health. Through their research, they have developed a new methodology to effectively track depression, anxiety, paint, and many additional applications with better results than alternative solutions. The university is drafting a provisional patent for the technology. 

Overcoming historical stigma and showcasing true therapeutic impact, Hemp and Cannabis plants have created a new opportunity for innovators to discover impactful uses of the compounds they produce. Researchers collaborating in Chemistry and the Drug Discovery Lab have developed a more effective way to use one of these compounds. For use in everything from treating Alzheimer’s disease to sunscreen, this team’s discovery has shown to be TWICE as effective as current cannabinoid compounds. UNCW is drafting a provisional patent for this innovation. 

A list of UNCW innovations wouldn’t be complete without marine-focused technology. Two separate researchers have developed prototypes for marine sensors. The first is focused on tracking CO2 content in marine and surrounding environments, a valuable metric in both aquaculture and climate change applications. The second is focused on tracking real-time environmental changes during extreme weather events, with valuable uses during hurricanes and other severe storms. UNCW is drafting provisional patents for both of these novel, low-cost devices. 

This list is only a sample of the exceptional and diverse research innovations at UNCW. All technologies developed at UNCW are managed by the UNCW Office of Innovation + Commercialization (OIC). The OIC is always looking for entrepreneurs and companies interested in partnering to commercialize these innovations and bring impactful products to market. If you are interested in learning more about UNCW research, licensing one of these impactful technologies, or partnering with UNCW in solving an industry or societal challenge, please reach out to Justin Streuli, Director of UNCW’s Office of Innovation + Commercialization at [email protected] or 910-962-2014

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