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Coulter Program provides support to engineering, medical faculty collaborations

Coulter Award recipients sit in the crowd preparing to receive their awards.

The University of Missouri’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program award recipients received recognition at a ceremony Sept. 24. Each two-person team, consisting of an engineering faculty member and a clinician from the MU School of Medicine, received $100,000 to fund projects that have the potential to improve or save patient lives by addressing a well-defined health care need.

The University of Missouri’s Coulter Translational Partnership Program awarded grants totaling $500,000 to five teams of researchers on Sept. 24. Each two-person team, consisting of an engineering faculty member and a clinician from the MU School of Medicine, received $100,000 to fund projects that have the potential to improve or save patient lives by addressing a well-defined health care need. These grants are part of the fourth round of awards from the $5 million partnership between MU and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.

The partnership’s goal is to unite clinicians and engineers who can utilize this funding to advance biomedical research discoveries by turning their laboratory research projects into commercialized health care innovations.

Robert Schwartz tries out a Google Glass device.

Interim Dean of the College of Engineering Robert Schwartz tests Panacea’s Cloud, the project of Assistant Professor Prasad Calyam from computer science and Salman Ahmad, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery. It is a hands-free device that uses wearable technology and is intended for use by first responders in mass casualty disasters such as tornadoes or hurricanes to communicate in the event that there is no phone or Internet service.

“At MU, we are known for working across disciplines to solve complex problems and to make important discoveries,” said Jerry Parker, associate dean for research at the MU School of Medicine and co-principal investigator for the MU Coulter Translational Partnership Program. “By leveraging the knowledge and expertise of our faculty from colleges and schools such as engineering and medicine, MU is able to meet its mission to all Missourians to provide the benefits of a world-class research university.”

The Coulter Program provides its annual awards to researchers whose projects they believe have great scientific potential and a compelling clinical need. Projects awarded this year range from an intelligent oxygen controller for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to a sensor that detects salmonella in a timely manner. Prior to being selected, a committee that includes entrepreneurs, accomplished researchers and venture capital investors reviewed the projects.

Following the awards ceremony, attendees had the opportunity to test one of the projects. Panacea’s Cloud, the project of Assistant Professor Prasad Calyam from computer science and Salman Ahmad, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, is a hands-free device that uses wearable technology, such as Google Glass, and is intended for use by first responders in mass casualty disasters such as tornadoes or hurricanes to communicate in the event that there is no phone or Internet service. John Gillis, a student researcher working on the project, testified to the impact of the Coulter Program. “The work I’ve done with Panacea’s Cloud has allowed me to further my education and make an impact on the world,” he said. “And because of Coulter, we were able to continue to increase that impact.”

The other research teams and their projects are:

Roger Fales, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; John Padalos, associate professor in the Department of Child Health; and Ramak Amjad, assistant professor in the Department of Child Health, have developed a device that automatically varies oxygen levels as needed for premature infants to increase the amount of time they spend in the desired range of oxygen saturation. The device does so by using feedback form multiple sensor measurements including blood-oxygen saturation and heart and respiratory rates.

Randy Curry, the Logan Distinguished Professor in electrical and computer engineering, and Nicholas Golda, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology, have developed a safer and more effective laser handpiece for dermatology treatments. The device also will be easier for practitioners to use and reduce the risk of serious, irreparable eye injuries that can result from accidental exposure to even just a reflection of a device’s laser beam.

Mahmoud Almasri, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Shuping Zhang, professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathbiology, have designed a sensor that is able to detect salmonella in food in a more timely and efficient manner. The sensor ensures the safety of consumers and helps to prevent food-borne outbreaks and the large financial losses that can result from medical bills and product recalls.

Raghuraman Kannan, associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering, and Dean Hainsworth, professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, have developed a disposable sensor that detects diabetic retinopathy (DR). DR is a major eye complication that arises in patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The sensor, which is much less expensive than current DR tests, can be administered by any primary care provider as opposed to current DR tests, which only can be administered by ophthalmologists and optometrists at patients’ annual eye exams.

MU is one of only 16 academic institutions in the nation and the only university in Missouri that offers a Coulter Translational Partnership Program. Additionally, it is one of only six public institutions nationwide with a medical school, a veterinary medicine college and a law school all on the same campus.