More Than Life Science Technologies

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In 2011, Emory University was listed in the New England Journal of Medicine as the 4th largest contributor to drug discovery among public-sector research institutions. Even with this accomplishment, drug discoveries comprise about 35% of the 1,634 active technologies managed by the OTT. This indicates a powerful research program, where researchers also produce cutting-edge advances in diagnostic technology, medical devices, medical software, research tools, and more.

As such, the technologies the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) markets and licenses are often life science technologies. This article exposits various non-medical technologies currently being marketed by OTT in an attempt to showcase work taking place in other corners of the university. Emory is known for strong research programs across each of its schools, from the College to the Rollins School of Public Health. The technologies below illustrate the work of Emory researchers outside of life sciences.

An Emory Information Security Scientist Improves Upon Institutional Phishing Prevention
With the roll-out of an award-winning Duo Two Factor authentication system, the Emory information security team has established itself as one of the leaders in its field. Naturally, its specialists would eventually turn their eye to “phishing” attacks – fraudulent emails purported to come from credible sources under the pretenses of extracting personal information. Recently, for those within Emory, you may have noticed “[External]” tags attached to emails sent from outside of the Emory network. This has been one method to weed out phishers and other scams. A few years ago, Elliot Kendall produced another method, this one meant to help build targeted education campaigns for Emory employees. His software improves upon the service provided by PhishMe, Inc., a phishing attack simulator meant to suggest how often employees provide sensitive information to illegitimate sources. Kendall found a way to combine PhishMe report data with institutional demographic data, such as email address or departmental building, in order to demonstrate where phishing-vulnerable employees were clustered. By understanding who exactly was falling for PhishMe’s fake phishing attempts, the information security team could directly work with affected respondents and provide them with the resources to avoid real phishing attacks in the future. Our office’s technology brief of the software can be found here.

Insecticide Applications from the Work of Emory Chemists
While searching for a novel therapeutic compound, Emory’s Erwin Van Meir, along with collaborator Binghe Wang from GSU, stumbled across a molecule capable of blocking mitochondrial complex I. “In the mitochondria, there is the electron chain transport that is part of how a cell makes its energy,” Dr. Van Meir told me. “The electron chain transport produces ATP through a process that goes through five different complexes. Complex I and II are generally seen as the root, where the others are dependent on their activity.” Cells can also make ATP through glycolysis, where glucose is converted to pyruvate, but only in small amounts. Furthermore, pyruvate sometimes converts to lactate, acidifying the surrounding environment and damaging other cells. This means that mitochondrial complex I is crucial for energy production, and its inhibition produces deleterious effects. In recent years, insecticide manufacturers have targeted the complex in their formulas, as its inhibition in insects would remove their presence from farmland. “Mitochondrial Complex 1 is really complex, comprised of roughly 50 different proteins, so it’s hard to know exactly where our molecule binds,” Van Meir furthered. “However, our molecule is also the most potent inhibitor that I’m aware of.” Greater potency allows for the deployment of lower doses, mitigating broader environmental consequences. Read our office’s technology brief for the compound here.

Air Detoxification Technologies Produced by Emory Researchers
As consumers pay more attention to environmentally harmful chemicals and their damaging impacts on human health, researchers have begun to search for ways to remove toxins from our surroundings. In a series of breakthroughs, Goodrich C. White Professor Craig Hill collaborated with postdocs and colleagues to develop various compounds that can detect, absorb, and detoxify harmful chemicals. One such technology is a polymer that transforms into a gel upon contact with toxins, entrapping and neutralizing them. Not only does the polymer change color upon detoxifying a substance, but its versatility allows for customization in selecting target chemicals. As referenced in our featured technology piece, Hill and his colleagues have continued to research the polymer and hope to perfect it further. Their development, however, is only the most recent in a line of other detoxification projects headed by Hill. Previously, Hill collaborated with Yurii Geletii, as well as a few postdocs, on a catalyst to neutralize nerve agents and other toxic substances. This technology, which is detailed further in our office’s brief, marked an innovation in solely requiring oxygen as a reagent. In the late 90’s, Hill worked with a graduate student to produce a fabric that could remove both gaseous and liquid contaminants from the ambient environment. Our office’s technology brief for the polymer can be found here.

Emory Researchers Inch Closer to a Hydrogen Economy
Another central focus of The Craig L. Hill Research Group is the development of materials for water oxidation. Our current mode of energy production burns hydrocarbons for fuel, which notoriously leaks carbon dioxide and other carbon pollutants into our atmosphere. As the combustion of hydrogen only produces clean water, hydrogen fuel has become a leading alternative for sustainable energy. This is also due, in part, to the known inefficiencies of solar power storage. Rather than rely on solar batteries, researchers have begun considering using sunlight to separate hydrogen molecules out of water and produce hydrogen fuel. This requires a water oxidation catalyst (WOC), a molecule that can perform the separation. Dr. Hill’s team at Emory debuted a polyoxometalate-based catalyst (technology brief here) that propelled the group to the forefront of their field. Not only were they the first research group to develop polyoxometalate for water oxidation, but they discovered that such a catalyst was more stable and efficient than any previous effort and highly cost-effective to produce. More recently, the Hill research group developed a new catalyst twice as efficient as their first WOC (technology brief here). These advances move towards a global-scale catalyst that could efficiently and sustainably shoulder humanity’s collective energy demand. No matter where the research community goes from here, if hydrogen fuel eventually becomes the global standard, it will be indebted to the work of Emory scientists.