More sufferers of type-1 diabetes may one day live needle-free lives thanks to the work of students in the Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program.
A four-member student team is now developing a business plan to market technology that could improve the success of a procedure enabling people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels without requiring daily insulin injections. Now reserved for the worst cases, this risky procedure involves transplanting healthy islet cells, which produce insulin, from the pancreases of genetically matched cadavers into diabetes patients.
It's not always successful because the difficult-to-obtain islets are often damaged in the harvesting process, says Jeffrey Gross, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Tech. He's developed technology to test whether islet cells are of sufficient quality to warrant transplantation. "Right now there's not a quantitative method for evaluating islets, so there's definitely a need for this technology," he says.
Though his early-stage technology is a number of years away from actual use on humans, Gross is getting help planning its eventual move to the healthcare marketplace from his TI:GER teammates: John Stallworth Jr., a MBA student at the College of Management who focuses on financial and marketing concerns, and two law students from Emory University, D. Scott Anderson and Kamran Salour, who deal with intellectual-property issues.
Housed in the College of Management, TI:GER is a collaboration between various Georgia Tech colleges and Emory's law school that brings together law, economics, management, science, and engineering graduate students in the classroom and research lab to learn about the challenges of commercializing new technologies.
TI:GER participants, who form teams around the research interests of Ph.D. students, take three core courses together and meet regularly to work on other assignments to solve the problems of bringing products to market. "The main obstacles to commercializing research are rarely the technology but issues at the interface of business and legal issues with capturing value from the technology," says Marie Thursby, a professor of strategic management at Georgia Tech who is TI:GER's executive director.
Started in 2002, TI:GER has already won a number of honors, including recognition as a 2005 National Model Specialty Program in Entrepreneurship from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Students for Free Enterprise.
Stallworth, a software engineer and project manager for computer companies before enrolling at Tech in 2004, considers TI:GER one of the most invaluable experiences he's had in the MBA program so far. "As a TI:GER fellow, I'm developing an appreciation of how potential market application can influence research direction and priorities as well as learning how to advance early-stage research into real business opportunities," he says.
Gross has been interested in the startup of biotech companies ever since starting his graduate studies four years ago. "More researchers would benefit from knowing how their research could eventually be taken into market," he says.
Acceptance into the two-year TI:GER program, which includes fourteen student teams, is highly competitive. "There are currently four times as many Ph.D. students interested in the program than we have funded slots for," says Thursby, who created a similar program at Purdue University before joining Georgia Tech.
Funded mostly by a five-year $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, TI:GER also receives support from the Alan and Mildred Peterson Foundation, Georgia Tech Presidential Fellowships, the Hal and John Smith Chair, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
"I believe the program has had a major impact on the way students approach their careers," Thursby says.