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Billion dollar pothole problem might have a simple solution

Damaged roads with gaping potholes from freezing winter time temperatures--that later thaw in springtime and crack when they expand--are a billion dollar problem for both local and federal government agencies. Not to mention the annoyance and money spent by any Ohioan who’s ever hit a pothole and damaged a tire from the dreaded concrete pits.
But help is on the way, according to Dr. Sang-Soo Kim of Ohio University, who thinks he’s come up with the solution that he now sells commercially through his company EZ Asphalt Technology LLC, founded in 2007.

Kim, an associate professor of civil engineering at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, has developed a method of testing asphalt binder--the sealant used to help repair highways that is highly susceptible to cold weather--called Asphalt Binder Cracking Device (ABCD). The device can be used by highway engineers to more accurately determine an asphalt’s cracking temperature, leading to stronger roads that don’t need repairs as often.

“People like this because it is a simple process,” says Kim of the commercially viable testing device that will give the asphalt industry a new standard for testing road surfaces.

The testing works by placing asphalt binder material in the ABCD ring and then cooling the device in a refrigerator chamber. A computer monitor attached to the ABCD ring shows the exact temperature where the binder begins to crack, giving accurate measurement of how it would perform on a real road, says Kim. The knowledge would lead to improved pavement structure that would help lessen the number of potholes in the road.

Kim worked with Enterprise Appalachia to bring his idea to market after receiving a grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

He estimates that his company will grow rapidly as it reaches out to 2,500 potential customers in six market segments in both the U.S. and Canada.

g-g-g-Global Cooling provides the deep freeze biomedical companies are looking for

An Athens-based company is primed to make a dent in the billion-dollar high performance cooling product market using an engine that's been around for almost 200 years.

Global Cooling LLC, a 16-year-old former engineering firm, is now producing ultra-low freezers for use in the biomedical field not only is based on green technology, but also promises huge savings.

The high-efficiency freezers, which keep its cargo as cold as -121 degrees Fahrenheit, are the first of their kind.

"If you go into a large bio-repository, or a hospital or a large pharmaceutical facility, you'll see a large number of ultra-low freezers employed for long-term storage of biological samples," explains Bill White, the company's director of marketing. "In some cases, you can find 400 or 600 of them at one place."

Global Cooling's new freezers perform the same task more uniformly, more quietly and at a fraction of the energy usage. They also use no oil, unlike traditional cooling products.

"Depending on the kilowatt-per-hour rate, it takes from $1,200-$2,000 a year just to operate (traditional units). What our ultra-low freezers do cuts the cost of that by about half. That's a serious benefit that is going to land on someone's bottom line."

Started in 1995 in Athens as an engineering firm, the company was primarily focused on patenting cooling technology that helped slow ozone layer depletion. Soon after, it determined Stirling engines, a 19th-Century invention that had been employed in steam engines, could be modernized as an improvement over the current technology.

The company began producing its own cooling products, culminating in the most recent model, which is now rolling off production lines. With investment from Ohio Third Frontier's Entrepreneurial Signature Program and TechGROWTH Ohio, it expanded its facility in Athens earlier this year. Its first three coolers off the new production line were delivered to Ohio University's Innovation Center last week, for use in its laboratories.

"It came full circle -- the university was involved in the early stages, helping with the business planning, and now they turned around and purchased the first three units off the line," says White.

Orders are already pouring in from bio-science companies both here and worldwide, and Global Cooling has a big future thanks to the innovation, he adds. The company expects to add 70 jobs over the next couple of years, most of them on the technical side.

Source: Bill White, Global Cooling LLC
Writer: Dave Malaska

First Biotech’s gene-creation technology could benefit medicine, agriculture, research

Athens-based startup First Biotech Inc. (FBTI) believes it’s found a better way to create new genes that could lead to new applications in medicine and other fields.

First Biotech produces and markets research reagents for a new smart DNA technology referred to as Unrestricted Mutagenesis and Cloning (URMAC). The technology was developed by the company’s founder, Louay Hallak. 

The technology replaces conventional subcloning techniques -- techniques that transfer a cloned DNA fragment from one vector to another -- with fast biochemical reactions that allow direct manipulation of large DNA sequences in an efficient, reliable and cost-effective way. The company has plans to establish a manufacturing and service operation in Ohio University’s Innovation Center.

FBTI, which registered as a C-corporation last year, is in the process of forming a management team in preparation for launch later this year.

“The main product,” says Hallak, “is fully developed and ready to go to market. We are starting with a professional team of experts in management, marketing and biotechnology . . . we will add new jobs as needed . . . FBTI will manufacture biochemical reagents, mainly for DNA mutagenesis and cloning,” Hallak says.

Hallak says the company’s new technique “will enable users to create new genes in shorter time, with high accuracy and less overall cost than the competition.”

URMAC has wide application in many fields, such as medicine. It can be used to create protein therapeutics and viral vectors; in research, it can “knock out” or change genes to help understand their function; and it can be used in agriculture, for crop engineering. 
FBTI has received pre-seed funding approval from TechGrowth Ohio, in addition to an earlier grant from TechColumbus. Hallak expects the new venture will achieve profitability within 12 to 18 months of launching.

Source: Louay Hallak, Founder, First Biotech Inc.
Writer: Patrick G. Mahoney

OU prof working on ways to understand those who cannot speak or move

Imagine how frustrating it would be if you could not let family members and friends know that you understood what they were saying to you.

That is the dilemma that many stroke and brain injury victims face each day.

Brooke Hallowell, a professor of communications sciences and disorders at Ohio University in Athens, is working to make it possible for medical professionals and communication therapists to assess a person's language comprehension even when the individual cannot speak or move.

She is working with Hans Kruse, professor of information and telecommunication systems, and LC Technologies to produce technology known as Eyetracking Comprehension Assessment System, or ECAS, that allows a clinician to evaluate a person's ability to understand questions or commands based on eye movement.

Twenty years in development, ECAS has just completed a phase I project with $700,000 in funding from the National Institutes for Health. The research is about to enter phase II and could be ready for commercial application within a few years, says Hallowell.

This technology could provide significant quality of life boosts for victims of stroke, brain injuries or individuals with congenital brain dysfunctions by allowing them to participate more fully in their treatment, to live at home instead of in an institution or to socialize more.

The system works by using infrared light to monitor eye movement and check for fixation on certain images shown on a screen while a clinician communicates questions or commands.

"When the eyes remain focused on a particular area you can measure comprehension," says Hallowell. "You have to have stable eye movement to see things."

Although eye tracking technology has been used in other areas, such as research on how healthy individuals perform tasks, such as driving, piloting a plane or using certain products, it has not been developed to help with victims of brain injuries before now.

"Knowing how much a person understands is critical for many things in their life," says Hallowell. "Now we can get a better picture of that."

Source: Brooke Hallowell, Ohio University
Writer: Val Prevish

Promiliad Biopharma wants to wipe out "superbugs"

A pair of Ohio University professors who turned their academic pursuits into a drug discovery company are getting closer to their goals.

Chemistry Professors Stephen Bergmeier and Mark McMills launched Promiliad Biopharma in 2002 after failing to get a National Institute of Health research grant for similar work they were doing at the university. Their research looked at ways to combat antibiotic resistance to so-called "superbugs." One of the most commonly known is MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an infection is caused by a staph bacteria that has become resistant to traditional antibiotics.

"We were doing academic research and applied for an NIH grant to help fund it. We failed to get the grant, but when the reviews came back a couple of reviewers said our application sounded more like a business plan than an academic research grant," says Bergmeier.

An idea was born.

"We said, Let's make a go of it," Bergmeier says.

The company is currently in preclinical trials. Its technology works by stopping a process bacteria needs to grow. If that process is hindered, the bacteria die. Antibiotic resistant indirections have become a growing international health problem, with a lack of new drugs to treat them.

Promiliad Biopharma is located in Ohio University's Innovation Center, an incubator which recently opened the Biotechnology Research and Development Facility to support the region's biotech research community.

Promiliad Biopharma has six employees and a part-time secretary. It's been awarded about $4 million in funding through the NIH's Small Business Technology Transfer program. It recently received a $100,000 grant from TechGrowth Ohio, an Athens-based development organization that receives funding from Ohio Third Frontier.

Promiliad Biopharma will continue its preclinical testing for the next couple of years, and will file an Investigational New Drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration, Bergmeier says.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Stephen Bergmeier, Promiliad Biopharma

Sanuthera's innovative ear buds offer hope to tinnitus sufferers

For people who suffer from tinnitus, or an uncontrollable ringing in the ears, finding relief from the disorder can be frustrating and expensive.

That frustration is something Ohio University clinical affairs director Jeffery DiGiovanni and Chillicothe VA Chief Audiologist Stephen Rizzo Jr., know well through their work with sufferers. The duo's compassion and ingenuity led them to create a new device that uses readily available MP3 technology to alleviate the ringing.

They have created wireless ear buds -- that also double as a hearing aid device -- that wirelessly streams sounds from an iPod-like player designed to play customized sounds that counteracts the buzz.

"We're deeply entrenched in hearing aid technology," DiGiovanni said. "Many people who suffer from tinnitus also use hearing aids, and we were both disappointed in the inability for manufacturers to come up with a device that would serve the needs of tinnitus sufferers in an elegant manner."

The ear buds have been developed through DiGiovanni's and Rizzo's company Sanuthera. DiGiovanni is understandably vague on the types of sounds developed, but says it's an improvement on traditional music or other generated sounds. They were created with the specific knowledge of the human auditory system to maximize the therapeutic effect The sounds can be customized to individuals, and downloaded through an audiologist to a user's personal MP3 device.

This spring the company received a boost with $337,000 in VC funds from TechGROWTH Ohio, an entrepreneur service provider and investor organization created through Ohio Third Frontier.

The funds will allow Sanuthera to speed up its prototype manufacturing, which is in process now. The company will soon under FDA testing and hopes to have the product to market by the second quarter of 2012.

Source: Jeffery DiGiovanni, Sanuthera
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites http://www.twitter.com/feoshiawrites

Third Sun Solar grows with commercial demand for alternative energy

In the 1990s, Geoff and Michelle Greenfield decided to build a new home off the electric grid outside of Athens. To accomplish that goal, Geoff Greenfield designed and built a number of systems to power the Greenfield's new home -- including a photovoltaic solar array.

Today, Geoff and Michelle Greenfield are president and CEO, respectively, of Third Sun Solar, an Athens-based solar integrator that has made the Inc. 500 two years in a row.

Gerald Kelly, the company's communications director, says the company began small after word of mouth spread about the solar system Geoff Greenfield had designed and built for his own home.

"As people heard about that and as people saw the home and saw what he had done there, he started getting lots of requests from people to do it for them," Kelly explains.

In 2000, the Greenfields established Third Sun Solar and Wind Power Ltd., including wind in their advanced and alternative energy services. But as the business matured, "we found that our core business really is in photovoltaic solar," Kelly says.

Today Third Sun has grown to become a major solar systems integrator, operating from the Innovation Center at Ohio University while growing to 30 employees, Kelley says.

"Up until a couple of years ago, we had six employees," Kelley notes. In addition to its Athens operations, Third Sun has added sales staff in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Third Sun projects have shifted from mostly residential in the beginning to mostly large commercial today, Kelley says. Part of that is a changing regulatory environment that provides more financial incentives to larger customers.

Kelley says the company plans to continue adding jobs but that "all the companies that do what we do are in the same sort of boat -- we are seeing this transition from the sweet spot being from 70 kilowatts (a small business or home) to more the megawatt scale."

As projects become larger, they also become more complex – both for Third Sun and for the customer, he says.

Source: Gerald Kelley, Third Sun Solar
Writer: Gene Monteith

Interthyr targets tough-to-treat diseases from Athens headquarters

Approaching retirement after 36 years at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Leonard Kohn decided he wasn't quite finished with his goal to improve life for people suffering from tough-to-treat diseases.

That's why he founded Interthyr Corporation in Athens to develop tests and medicines for endocrine diseases, autoimmune-inflammatory diseases and cancer. The company got its start with a $900,000 Ohio Technology Action Fund grant. He moved from Maryland to Athens, Ohio to set up a research laboratory at Ohio University. There he continued the work he'd started at a nonprofit research foundation he helped start in Maryland.

"I had reached the possibility of retirement at NIH, and wanted to do something useful in terms of development of a product for translational medicine," or turning research into something that could make a difference in patient's lives, Kohn said. "I decided the Edison Biotechnology Institute and the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine afforded me an opportunity to pursue those goals."

Interthyr Corporation specializes in research related to dozens of endocrine and autoimmune-inflammatory diseases including diabetes, Graves' Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, as well as cancer. The company is also conducting research in certain equine diseases.

In 2008, the nine-person company moved to the Ohio University Innovation Center.

Interthyr Corporation, along with Athens-based Diagnostic Hybrids, recently developed Thyretian, which detects the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism directly linked to Graves' disease.

"(Thyretian) is a gold standard, and is commercialized within the United States and now moving abroad," Kohn said.

The company's work has drawn a $2.6 million grant to develop a new drug that could treat pancreatic cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Source: Leonard Kohn, Interthyr Corp.
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Turning “pee” into power is mission of E3 Clean Technologies

E3 Clean Technologies wants to turn your pee into power.

Gerardine Botte, a professor of biomolecular and chemical engineering at Ohio University, has developed technology to create energy from the ammonia found in human and animal organic waste. She is the founder of Athens-based E3 Clean Technologies and is developing her "SCR GreenBox," the product that will harness the technology for distribution, at the Ohio University Innovation Center.

Kent Shields, CEO of E3, says that the GreenBox has potential in several markets, wastewater treatment, agriculture, the military, electronics manufacturing, and power plant management.

The GreenBox works by using a patented low-energy electrolysis process that converts ammonia and urea in wastewater to hydrogen, nitrogen and pure water, says Shields. The box also produces hydrogen energy.

"This unit works similar to a battery," he says. "We break down ammonia and turn it into clean energy."

A large GreenBox that could be used by a municipal wastewater treatment facility would be about the size of a tractor trailer, says Shields. A smaller unit that might be used in a small manufacturing facility would be about the size of a refrigerator. The company estimates that the device could reduce the operational costs for reducing ammonia from wastewater by 60 percent.

E3 has received early stage funding of $350,000 from TechGROWTH Ohio, a technology funding program backed by the Ohio Third Frontier initiative. Pre-production GreenBox units could be ready by early 2012, says Shields. Within the next three years the company could hire up to 30 engineers and field technicians as it goes to market. He estimates that as many as double that number of jobs could be created through the manufacturing process for the product, for which E3 will contract with local companies.

Source: Kent Shields, E3 Clean Technologies
Writer: Val Prevish

OU professor’s anti-cancer compound could revolutionize treatments

Rathindra Bose has been looking for a better anti-cancer drug for nearly 30 years. Now, his discovery of a compound that beats back ovarian cancer in mice without the toxicity, weight loss and hair loss of other drugs has been snapped up by a New York biomedical company for possible commercialization.

Bose, professor of biomedical sciences at Ohio University in Athens, as well as VP of research and dean of the graduate college, says continued testing on the new class of anti-cancer compounds will continue for at least a year before clinical testing in humans can take place. But he's excited by the prospects of a new treatment for cancer patients whose options are currently limited.

Bose's new compounds, called phosphaplatins, are a combination of phosphate and platinum. The three most widely used anti-cancer drugs also contain platinum, but can have devastating side effects, including liver disease, he says. Consequently, doses typically must be kept low, he says.

Most platinum-based drugs work by killing cancer cells directly by binding with the DNA inside a cell's nucleus, he says. But, they also react with vital enzymes, causing toxic side effects.

Phosphaplatins are designed to promote tumor suppression genes within the body rather than to kill cancer cells directly. Because they do not bind with a cell's DNA, they do not appear to carry the toxic effects of most platinum-based drugs, he says.

"With mice, there has been no hair loss that we have seen," Bose says." They're as playful as normally we see for the control group. And, they don't lose their appetite as compared to other platinum drugs."

Ohio University has licensed Bose's new class of compounds to Phosplatin Therapeutics, which is paying $600,000 for further experiments leading, all hope, to eventual commercialization.

While Bose says the new compounds may have applications for other forms of cancer, his team has focused on ovarian cancer because later stages of that disease are so difficult to treat with current drugs.

Source: Rathindra Bose, Ohio University
Writer: Gene Monteith

Athens image-sharing startup boosted by world events

From an office at a business incubator in southeastern Ohio, Alan Schaaf's barely two-year-old tech company is involved in the people-vs.-president drama unfolding in Egypt -- albeit passively.

Schaaf is founder and the only fulltime employee of Imgur (pronounced like "imager"), a site to share pictures across social networks, blogs, and online communities for free. The recent OU graduate and a part-timer work from the Ohio University Innovation Center in Athens.

Every day over 100,000 people use Imgur to upload innocuous things like snapshots of dogs, clever cartoons and graphics of all sorts. They make their visuals accessible via Imgur's gallery as well as Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and Google.

But sometimes, as has happened lately, there's a reminder why there's a "world" in www.

Schaaf says Imgur usually has about 3,000 visits per week from people in Egypt. Recently, despite riots and interruption of Internet and related network services, that number dipped to 500.

Uploads related to the unrest have included things like screen captures of Al Jazeera's coverage of damage at the Egyptian National Museum, pictures of Egyptians holding tear gas canisters, posters that say "Mubarak Must Go" and related sentiments, and a typewritten letter, purportedly from inside Egypt, protesting the communications blackouts and urging freedom of speech.

Even before this, Time magazine's "Newsfeed" service spotlighted Imgur's top 10 images of 2010 in a story, and called Imgur "repository of all things meme-y and click-y."

Schaaf declined to discuss his company's revenue, but said "it's profitable enough to hire a full time employee or two in the coming months. The plan is to grow the company and expand its online reach as a social entertainment site."

Source: Alan Schaaf, Imgur
Writer: Gabriella Jacobs

Athens-based Sunpower shoots for the stars with super-efficient engine technology

Athens-based Sunpower soon could see its super-efficient engine technology blast into the heavens though a partnership with NASA.

Sunpower founder William Beale, a former Ohio University professor, developed Sunpower's signature Stirling engine – a free-piston Stirling engine that will run for 100,000 hours without stopping – that's been the basis for the company's cryo-coolers, engines and compressors. Beale developed the technology in the 1970s, but it's been refined over decades.

Sunpower's cryocoolers have long cooled down highly sensitive sensors, including medical devices, nuclear material detection devices and their engines have been developed for solar, biomass, diesel, and natural gas generators. But recently the company has set its sights higher, into space to be exact, through a partnership with NASA that will launch Sunpower technology into deep space.

"When we started, this technology had just been invented, now we have commercial cryocoolers products and engines designed for space applications," company CEO and president Mark Schweizer said. "Our engineering services today are all around NASA. Going forward we're developing engines for terrestrial applications (solar power generation and critical remote power) for commercial customers."

Under the joint sponsorship of NASA and the Department of Energy, Sunpower is helping developed a high-efficiency Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (or ASRG) for future NASA Space Science and Exploration missions.

Sunpower is developing two Advanced Stirling Convertors (ASCs), operating at a hot-end temperature of 650 degrees Celsius for the ASRG. It's a joint project, along with Lockheed Martin and the NASA Glenn Research Center  of Cleveland.

The company's work with NASA has fueled expansion. Sunpower has grown 32 percent in the last two years, and now employs 71. Many of the employees are engineers and technicians, many who have been recruited from Ohio University and nearby Hocking College respectively.

Source: Mark Schweizer, Sunpower
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

Athens-based Diagnostic HYBRIDS growing at double-digit pace

David Scholl says it took his company more than 10 years before it sold its first product. But what he describes as "care and nurture" within the Ohio University community appears to have paid off.

Founded at OU in 1983 with about a dozen employees, Scholl's Athens-based Diagnostic HYBRIDS has grown to 225. Scholl, president and chief executive officer, cites a 75 percent increase in jobs over the past four years.

Among the products powering growth are those related to thyroid conditions. For example, in 2000, the company partnered with OU on a $1 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier's Action Fund, luring scientist Leonard Kohn to Ohio to support development of early detector of Graves' disease.

"About 32 million people have the disease, and there are 300,000 to 400,000 new cases diagnosed per year in the United States," Scholl says. "We began commercialization of that product in 2001, and it's been selling to the point where we decided to make a refined version, which the FDA approved in May."

The new test cuts the typical results time from three days to one. Diagnostic HYBRIDS is counting on a new web-based education and marketing effort -- and direct mail to doctors -- to raise awareness and drive earlier treatment.

The firm won a $5-million Third Frontier Award last year to further develop viral diagnostic and treatment capabilities. More recently, Diagnostic HYBRIDS licensed a test to detect recurring thyroid cancer. And it just won FDA approval for FastPoint, a test that detects two common influenza strains in less than 30 minutes.

Source: David Scholl, Diagnostic HYBRIDS
Writer: Gene Monteith

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