Researchers Showcase Technologies with Commercial Potential

The Office of Technology Transfer hosts its third annual Innovation Competition.

Maryam Yammahi
GW Office of Technology Transfer Director Steven Kubisen, Licensing Associate Gus Williamson and first-place winner Maryam Yammahi, a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
March 30, 2014

By Lauren Ingeno

Universities are breeding grounds for inventive ideas that could change lives, but often, those ideas never leave the laboratory.

With two $10,000 prizes up for grabs, the third annual Office of Technology Transfer Open House and Innovation Competition gave GW researchers the opportunity to network with potential investors, with the hope of moving their technologies from the university to the marketplace.

The competition, held on Wednesday and sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, showcased the technological innovations of 18 GW researchers that have already been patented or copyrighted, but not yet licensed.

Following a poster presentation session, four finalists were chosen to pitch their ideas to a panel of experienced consultants, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. The Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) functions as the bridge between in-house laboratory research and outside investors.

Marco Mercader, an associate professor of medicine in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was the $10,000 winner in the competition’s “life science” category, for his creation of a device that controls atrial arrhythmias after open-heart surgery. The $10,000 prize in the “physical science” category was awarded to Ph.D. student Maryam Yammahi and her adviser Simon Berkovich, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science's Department of Computer Science, for their “pigeonhole search” technology—a method for approximate search in very large data files. 

“From rapid health care tests to faster search engines—all of these technologies could make a positive impact in society by addressing some of the major problems that exist in the world today,” said OTT Director Steven J. Kubisen.

Dr. Kubisen emphasized that the benefit of the OTT Open House and Innovation Competition extends far beyond the prize money. The event provides a forum for idea sharing between researchers, entrepreneurs and members of the venture community, and could potentially establish relationships between the university and eventual licensees.

As a result of last year’s competition, four of the 13 participants’ technologies have been licensed. And with five more researchers and two more judges than in 2013, Dr. Kubisen expects that this year’s competition will encourage companies to not only license more products, but also to sponsor GW research and hire graduate students.

“More political leaders, both at the federal and state level, are looking to universities to try and help drive the economic growth of a region. And this is how you do it,” he said.

Brian Coblitz, a licensing associate in the Office of Technology Transfer, with first-place winner Marco Mercader and OTT Director Steve Kubisen.

Dr. Mercader has designed a device that will reduce the risk of rapid heart rates in open-heart surgery patients.

Following an open-heart surgery, 40 percent of patients may develop a type of heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, and 15 to 20 percent could develop junctional ectopic tachycardia, which is characterized by rapid heart rate. In collaboration with Children’s National Medical Center and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Mercader developed a system that connects a catheter to a collection of nerve cells, which have a direct connection to the AV node, the “gate keeper” for heart rate control. The temporary device can be turned on and off and uses electrical pulses to maintain a healthy heart rate for the high-risk weeks following surgery. The system can reduce a patient’s heart rate by more than 50 percent.

With his prize money, Dr. Mercader and his team of researchers plan to work with SEAS researchers to develop a better, portable prototype.

Dr. Berkovich and Ms. Yammahi were awarded first prize at the competition for their development of a technology that searches binary strings and matches the given request approximately.

The new method uses a mathematical formula called the pigeonhole principle, to search through very large data files. This technique is important because many fields, such as computational biology, require an approximate matching of a search query. Search technology is a cornerstone of the Internet economy, Ms. Yammahi said. With the prize money, Dr. Berkovich and Ms. Yammahi intend to build a software prototype for this technology.

The researchers would like to build a software tool that enables customers to enter specified strings and then match the specific strings within the customer's specified accuracy.

“We will need a bigger computer with larger memory to handle the data,” Ms. Yammahi said.

Jim Chung, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Office of Technology Transfer, said the competition was a celebration of innovation at GW.

“Research is about scientific discovery. But commercialization is about getting those ideas out of the labs and into the hands of real people who can actually use those discoveries,” he said. “And so this is a celebration of that and to encourage the translation of our great research here into helping people.”

He said he would urge all researchers at GW to take advantage of OTT, in order to expedite the process of making their discoveries known to the world.

“A lot of researchers think that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ but not necessarily,” he said. “You want to be able to make things happen faster, and without taking this type of approach, your innovation may never see daylight.”


GW Office of Technology Transfer Innovation Competition Presentations

GW Office of Technology Transfer Innovation Competition Presentations

GW Office of Technology Transfer Innovation Competition Seminar

GW Office of Technology Transfer Innovation Competition Seminar