MTRAC awards spark biomedical innovation at Wayne State University

DETROIT - Three Wayne State University (WSU) research teams were recently awarded funding from Wayne State's Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program. The goal is to accelerate the translation and commercialization of their innovative biomedical technologies by providing the resources to validate technical and market opportunities. The MTRAC projects will be supported by $1.1 million in awards from the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), with matching funds from Wayne State.


The WSU MTRAC program is broadly focused on medical devices and biomedical materials.


The successful applicants for the 2016 MTRAC funding are:

  • Nivedita Dhar, M.D., assistant professor of urology, Smart Artificial Urinary Sphincter. This project aims to create a more effective stress urinary incontinence solution, called the Smart Artificial Urinary Sphincter. Current devices have multiple failures. The proposed project aims to create a SAUS that will have an adaptive control algorithm capable of self-adaptation to the urethral morphology.
  • Zhiqiang Cao, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering, Zwitterionic Hydrogel Based Islet Encapsulation Technology. This project aims to prove the feasibility of using a novel technology to encapsulate xeno-source islets to correct diabetes. There currently is no encapsulation technology available for inducing blood vessel formation to sustain their cell survival and function long-term. Cao's technology utilizes a novel zwitterionic polymer material for islet cell encapsulation that will ultimately promote blood vessel growth to normal tissue levels and sustain the high blood vessel density for a longer period of time.
  • Mohammad Avanaki, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Transfontanelle Photoacoustic Imaging Probe for Neonatal Functional Brain Imaging. This project will use a technique called photoacoustic imaging. Laser light is reflected off blood cells in the brain of a premature infant to create an acoustic sound that can be picked up and interpreted. This method is safer and more easily accessible than a MRI or PET, and allows the newborn to remain in an incubator.


The awards are the culmination of a competitive selection process that began with the submission of letters of intent from faculty for nine prospective projects. The faculty worked closely with Wayne State's Technology Commercialization Office and MTRAC Program Director Scott Olson to identify the clinical and market opportunities and the commercialization roadmap. The researchers presented their proposals in person before a 10-member Oversight Committee consisting of medical device experts, entrepreneurs and investors from across the country.


"The MTRAC program complements a number of the innovation programs provided by Wayne State's Technology Commercialization Office," said Joan Dunbar, Ph.D., associate vice president for technology commercialization at Wayne State. These programs include the monthly "Commercialization Conversations" educational sessions, mentors-in-residence, innovation fellows and the Technology Development Incubator proof-of-concept funding program. Projects may transition between these programs, and each of the successful MTRAC applicants benefited from their prior engagement with one or more these programs." 


Dunbar credits the availability and coordination of the programs for the recent upswing in deal flow, the launch of startup companies at WSU and the ability to successfully transition technologies from academia.


"The types of innovative solutions developed through Wayne State's program are a great representation of the talent we have in the medical space in Michigan," said Denise Graves, University Relations Directors at MEDC. "Accelerating these projects out of the lab and into the commercial market, positions Michigan as a leader in the advancement of technology in the medical field and supports the collaboration between industry and the university, helping to grow Michigan's economy."


MTRAC Innovation Hubs and individual institution programs, developed and managed by the MEDC's Entrepreneurship & Innovation initiative, accelerate technology transfer from Michigan's institutions of higher education, hospital systems and nonprofit research centers to the private sector. Wayne State University is one of four universities with an MTRAC program. Others include the University of Michigan, Michigan Technical University and Michigan State University. Each has a different focus for projects that aim to accelerate commercialization in agriculture biology, advanced applied materials, life sciences, advanced transportation and biomedical.


Through July 2017, MTRAC programs have funded 134 projects, helped develop 21 start-up companies, created 54 jobs, secured $72.8 million in follow-on funding, and licensed technology to 17 industry partners.




About MEDC

MEDC's Entrepreneur & Innovation initiative establishes Michigan as the place to create and grow a business by providing high-tech start-up companies with access to a variety of critical resources, such as funding and expert counsel, from ideation to maturation. For more on MEDC Entrepreneurship & Innovation and other initiatives, visit


For more on the MEDC and its initiatives, visit For Michigan travel news, updates and information, visit Michigan residents interested in seeking employment with any of Michigan's growing companies should check, where more than 98,000 jobs are currently available in a variety of industries.


About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit




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Julie O'Connor

Director, Research Communications
Phone: 313-577-8845