MU researchers awarded $500,000 in grants

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COLUMBIA - Research grants totaling $500,000 were awarded Tuesday to MU researchers working to create products that could improve the lives of patients.

Dr. Teresa Lever is the recipient of one of the grants. She is working on a tool to help identify patients with a swallowing disorder that are at the risk of getting pneumonia.

"This is helping us get our research to the next level to make this worthy of funding by external funding mechanisms," Lever said. "Without this money, I think the research would eventually get done because I'm overzealous about doing that, but it would take a lot longer time."

Other products awarded grants include osteoporosis treatments, the ability to store frozen corneas longer for transplants, a way to identify if a heart bypass was successful and a non-invasive way to evaluate the health of a fetus.

The University of Missouri's Coulter Translational Partnership Program consists of teams of at least one clinician and an engineer.

Jinglu Tan, who helped decide the recipients of the award, said the clinician will generally identify the needs and potential application of the product. The engineer will lead the creation efforts. This all leads to getting the product on the market.

"It has really encouraged researchers and clinicians to think about applications, not just research in their labs," Tan said. "How can you translate your research into products that will benefit patients? The philosophy is, until you turn your research into a product that can be commercialized, you won't help the patients."

Tan said this happens from licensing the product to existing companies or a start-up. MU parts ways with the product after it attracts at least $500,000 from investors.

"It's an investment in researchers, and much more importantly it's an investment in economic development in the state because we are creating new companies and new jobs," Tan said.

Once commercialized, the companies bring in funds for the university from things like patents and licenses. Chapter 100.020 of the Collective Rules and Regulations said about 66 percent of funds derived from this category go toward the university, the department and the UM system.

The funding for grants under the Colter Program will end in mid-2017. A news release from the MU School of Medicine said the university will pick up the slack.

$500,000 per year for five years will be provided by a group of MU offices. Diamond Dixon, a spokesperson for University of Missouri Health Care, said the office of vice chancellor for research, the provost, medicine, engineering and tech management and industry relations will each pitch in thousands of dollars.