Innovative ideas that stretch from rich farmlands to high-tech medical and computer labs have again landed the University of Nebraska System among the world’s leading academic institutions for earning U.S. patents.
A recently released report from the National Academy of Inventors ranks the NU System in a two-way tie for No. 78 in the world, with 45 patents earned in 2022. This marks the sixth straight year Nebraska has been included in the top 100.
“To again be in the company of the world’s best universities is further confirmation of the quality of our faculty, the ingenuity of their ideas and the great power of our combined talents,” NU System President Ted Carter said. “I’m deeply proud of the work the University of Nebraska’s faculty, staff and students are doing every day to change lives and strengthen the economy in Nebraska and beyond.”
Patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the university’s technology transfer offices — Nutech Ventures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and UNeMed Corp. at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha — to bring innovations in areas like healthcare, agriculture, engineering, biotechnology and others to the marketplace. The result is new startup companies, jobs and university-licensed products that grow the economy and improve quality of life.
“I continue to be impressed by and applaud the high level of innovation and impact being made by our research enterprise at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,” UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett said. “This is precisely the sort of positive impact an R1, land-grant institution should be making on society.
“This ranking also shows the importance of closer alignment of ongoing research at UNL and UNMC. Reported separately, neither university could celebrate this accomplishment. Together, we show the world that Nebraska can do big things.”
Partnership between UNL and UNMC contributed to Nebraska’s strong ranking, with five of NU’s patents issued to Virtual Incision, a faculty-led startup that is developing surgical robots. The project was founded in 2005 by UNL’s Shane Farritor, David B. and Nancy K. Lederer Professor of Engineering, and Dmitry Oleynikov, a former UNMC faculty member.
To date, the portfolio Virtual Incision is commercializing includes more than 200 patents and patent applications. Farritor and colleagues are currently preparing a miniaturized in-vivo robotic assistant to travel to the International Space Station for a simulated surgery in 2024.
Patents awarded to other Husker researchers in 2022 include a visual monitoring system for tracking animal behavior and health, developed by a team including electrical and computer engineers Mateusz Mittek, Lance C. Pérez and Eric Psota, and animal scientist Ty Schmidt. The technology features a video tracking system for ag producers that can monitor for individual and animal weight, feeding behavior, growth rate and disease control.
A patent also went to an energy-efficient computing system that marries tiny sensors or mechanical parts to make sense of and act on real-time data provided by linked microprocessors. The system, developed by Mohammad Hassan, Mostafa Rafaiejokandan and Fadi Alsaleem, offers low-cost, energy efficient computing with market applications in robotics, smart cars, wireless network sensors, smart buildings and wearable devices.
Of the U.S. patents secured by UNeMed, a remarkable 64% were licensed for further development.
“This is another indicator of the creative and innovative culture at UNMC,” Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., said. “The work of our researchers and scientists — coupled with our licensing team and industry partners — continues to improve the lives of those in our communities and throughout the world. We look forward to further accelerating our momentum on these fronts, in the years to come.”
Three patents relate to the work of Howard Gendelman, M.D., and Benson Edagwa, Ph.D, and were licensed to their startup company, Exavir. The core technology behind those patents is a groundbreaking approach to HIV treatment that promises to reduce therapeutic regimens to a single dose administered just once or twice per year. Current HIV treatments often require a strict program of multiple daily doses.
Last year, Exavir secured $4 million in a successful Series A funding round, and was named UNeMed’s Startup of the Year during the 2022 Innovation Awards.
Another UNeMed patent forms the cornerstone of RespirAI, a biomedical startup borne from a collaboration of UNMC’s clinical staff and UNO’s biomechanics department. The technology is a wearable device that could positively impact the 15 million Americans suffering from a potentially lethal condition called COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD includes conditions such as emphysema and long-term bronchitis, which have no cure and progressively worsens a patient’s quality of life as the disease progresses.
A sudden flare-up of potentially life-threatening symptoms — called an exacerbation — had been nearly impossible to predict and often requires hospitalization for treatment. The technology development by former UNO researcher Jenna Yentes can successfully predict exacerbations, providing the patient enough time to seek treatment before it’s too late.