College stars shine at Innovation Celebration

Björn HambergerXuefei Huang and Alex Pollock of the College of Natural Science claimed three of the MSU Innovation Center’s top six annual awards presented at the 2024 Innovation Celebration in April.

Björn Hamberger — 2024 Innovation of the Year Award

Hamberger, the James K. Billman, Jr., M.D. Endowed Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, claimed the 2024 Innovation of the Year Award for his research engineering bacteria to produce valuable compounds called terpenes.

“Professor Hamberger is a harbinger of the future,” said Phil Duxbury, dean of the College of Natural Science. “He is truly deserving of this award.”

“The terpene family of molecules is breathtaking in scope and enormously important, industrially, nutritionally and pharmacologically,” said Joe Affholter, commercialization program director for the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization AgBio Innovation Hub at the MSU Innovation Center.

Hamberger’s 2024 award, in particular, recognizes his work with a particular type of terpenes called carotenoids, which have established uses as pigments and antioxidants. Hamberger and his team are pushing the applications further, investigating these compounds for uses in mosquito repellents and even medicines.

“We are developing terpenes that are active against specific cell types of cancer,” said Hamberger, who is also a faculty member in the Molecular Plant Sciences Program, the Genetics and Genome Sciences Program and the Cell and Molecular Biology Program.

“The next step is what we do with this knowledge.”

Xuefei Huang — 2024 Technology Transfer Achievement Award

Xuefei Huang, an MSU Research Foundation Professor in the Department of Chemistry, won the 2024 Technology Transfer Achievement Award for commercializing a nanosized drug-delivery platform called Q Beta through his company, Iaso Therapeutics.

“Our company’s goal is to commercialize and translate the technology developed in the lab,” said Huang, who is also affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, or IQ. “And to develop it further into a commercial product that the FDA will approve so that we can use it to treat diseases, reduce pain and improve human health,”

“I think Q Beta shows a lot of promise, and Dr. Huang is set to unlock its full potential,” said Anupam Jhingran, a technology manager with MSU Technologies — MSU’s technology transfer office — who earned his doctorate in infectious diseases.

“When I started, I was working on the patents and agreements related to Q Beta applications in cancer vaccines,” Jhingran said. “Now, he has demonstrated the technology can be used for infectious diseases, opioid addiction and in other applications.”

“When I first heard that Xuefei won the award, my first thought was honestly, ‘Why didn’t he win this earlier?’” said Eric Hegg, the associate dean of budget, planning, research and administration with the College of Natural Science. “He’s really an amazing scientist.”

Alexander Pollock — 2024 Student Startup of the Year Award

Alexander Pollock, a senior in the Human Biology Program, and his brother Austin Pollock earned the 2024 Student Startup of the Year Award for launching an innovative device called Reel Free.

“When we first created Reel Free, it was just to help our grandfather,” Austin said.

“He had many scary falls from oxygen tubing, sending him to the ER,” Alexander said.

“He asked us to come up with a solution,” Austin said.

Reel Free reduces the risk of tripping over unmanaged oxygen tubing by automatically reeling in excess tubing around a spool. The device is operated by a small remote with a single button.

“They had such a passion for it and realized other people want this and need this. We’ve been able to send them around the nation. They’ve won $85,000 in pitch contests,” said Paul Jacques, managing director of venture creation at the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at MSU.

“They’ve been an amazing team.”

“It is an inspiration to see how Alexander and Austin, driven by concern for their grandfather, create a product that will improve the lives of many,” said Cori Fata-Hartley, director of the Human Biology Program. “Their work is a tremendous integration of key principles in human biology, engineering and entrepreneurship.”

This story was originally published by the College of Natural Science.


About the MSU Innovation Center: 

The MSU Innovation Center is dedicated to fostering innovation, research commercialization, and entrepreneurial activities from the research and discovery happening across our campus every day. We act as the primary interface for researchers aiming to see their research applied to solving real-world problems and making the world a better place to live. We aim to empower faculty, researchers, and students within our community of scholars by providing them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to bring their discoveries to the forefront.

Through strategic collaborations with the private sector, we aim to amplify the impact of faculty research and drive economic growth while positively impacting society. We foster mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with the private sector through corporate-sponsored research collaborations, technology licensing discussions, and support for faculty entrepreneurs to support the establishment of startup companies.   

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