OHSU Startup Spotlight: Nzumbe, Inc.

Nzumbe logoLaunched in 2013, Nzumbe, Inc., is an OHSU startup company providing research services to accelerate the development of breakthrough therapies in challenging diseases, such as cancer. Nzumbe focuses on a root cause of cancer known as gene silencing. When critical genes, known as tumor suppressor genes, are silenced, a cancer cell can arise and grow to form a tumor that may spread throughout the body. Mitch Turker, Ph.D., J.D., whose lab resides in the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at OHSU, created a platform to screen for drugs and compounds that can reactivate and stabilize these silenced genes. This discovery served as the platform from which the company was initially founded.

Nzumbe’s goal with this technology is to identify early steps in the gene silencing process, hitting the root cause of disease before and after the disease has occurred. The company was named Nzumbe, zombie in Angolan dialect, because of the company’s mission to give permanent life back to the zombie-type genes that would otherwise remain half-alive  (i.e. reactivated tumor suppressor genes) through the cell-based screening platform.

Michael Rountree, an expert in the field of epigenetics, was then appointed to serve as the company’s scientific director. Rountree’s expertise with both mammalian systems and the fungus, Neurospora crassa, adds distinctive value to Nzumbe’s drug screening capabilities. Neurospora possesses the same epigenetic marks as humans, but with a far more simplistic genome. Nzumbe is exploiting this genetically tractable fungal system to design more rapid, less expensive epigenetic drug screening platforms.

Nzumbe, Inc., has received several sources of funding, including support from the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute (OTRADI) and an OHSU/Portland Development Commission commercialization grant. In 2014, Nzumbe was awarded its first Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. The team hopes that monies from its STTR grant will be a real driver for company success to help demonstrate commercialization progress and move on to the next stage of development.

Nzumbe, Inc., is now working to identify business partners or opportunities for larger investment. Obtaining buy-in and identifying potential partners to screen epigenetic compound libraries will be crucial in ultimately selling its screening product and research services. The company hopes that working with new partners will help validate its platform and expand the application of its technology to other fields, such as toxicology, childhood developmental diseases, neurological and geriatric disorders. In the future, the company aspires to have a larger economic impact that includes providing jobs and opportunities in the local Northwest biotech community.



Community Conversation series resumes Aug. 25

Join the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research for the next installment in the 2015 Community Conversations series:

You are what you eat: antibiotic resistance from chickens to your table.”

The event will explore the connection between chickens and human health with a discussion on how the use of antibiotics in large scale chicken farming impacts the economy and our health. The discussion will be co-facilitated by Kathy Hessler, J.D., LL.M, Lewis & Clark Law School and Emma Newton, M.S., Canisius College.

Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015
5:45 to 7:45 p.m.
The Lucky Labrador Pub (all ages)
1700 N. Killingsworth St. in Portland

$5 general admission includes discussion and first glass of wine/beer (over age 21). Register now.

Community Conversations are informal discussions that explore a topic in biomedical science and its relationship with ethics, medicine, research and society, and connecting people to the biomedical research community. Contact Jen Wroblewski for more information.

Meet the TTBD interns; application deadline is Aug. 21

Interns with Technology Transfer & Business Development (TTBD) are important members of the OHSU team. They assist with technology development and the transition of technology from laboratory to market for the benefit of the public. In return, interns gain valuable knowledge and skills that can be applied in a wide range of professions.

Uchenna Emechebe

Uchenna Emechebe

The TTBD office currently has three interns, with varying educational and professional backgrounds.

Uchenna Emechebe, Ph.D. received his Ph.D. in neurobiology and anatomy from the University of Utah and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute. As a TTBD intern, Emechebe is working to build on current cell line portfolios, discover ways to add value to the biomaterials, write non-confidential summaries, and identify potential licensees. These cell line documents will be assigned to him as an OHSU work product, giving him the opportunity to become an inventor of a licensed technology before his internship period ends. Emechebe is considering a career in the development and testing of novel tools for scientific research or a career that explores the legalities of new product development.

Dan Murphy

Dan Murphy

Dan Murphy, M.S., received his master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from OHSU’s School of Medicine and is currently working toward a Juris Doctor degree from Lewis & Clark Law School. As a TTBD intern, Murphy’s main duties are to draft office actions, conduct prior art searches, and compose patent application drafts. In the future, he wishes to pursue a career in the intellectual property field.

Marek Szumowski is currently working toward his M.B.A. at Portland State University and works as a research specialist in the lab of William A. Horton, M.D., at the Shriners Hospital for Children. As a TTBD intern, Szumowski’s main project involves building a financial model for evaluating intellectual property, creating a standard operating procedure for improving the process for tracking marketing efforts, and developing hit lists based on relevant technology sectors. In the future, Szumowski looks to transition away from bench work and secure a business role within the biotech industry.

Marek Szumowski

Marek Szumowski

Where are they now?
Past TTBD interns have gone on to pursue careers in technology transfer, patent law, startup development, and other career paths. We checked in with our interns from the 2014-2015 academic year to see where they are in their careers.

Sarah Biber, Ph.D., worked closely with Joseph Carroll, Ph.D., director of business development for the Knight Cancer Institute, to develop a strategy for evaluating and efficiently using competitive intelligence databases to identify potential industry partners based on work with gene targets. She also assisted the office by drafting marketing materials, evaluating technologies, and conducting market research. Prior to the end of her internship, Biber accepted a position at the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute (OTRADI) and serves as the operations and programs officer.

Lisa Lukaesko, Ph.D., worked closely with the business development team within TTBD to research industry partnerships and startup company metrics. She compiled her research and recommendations into a formal report at the end of her internship, and will present her findings to several members of OHSU leadership. Soon after her internship, Lukaesko joined the TTBD office as an agreements officer.

Khoa Tran, Ph.D., worked with technology development manager, Trina Voss, on TTBD’s antibody portfolio, discovering ways to add value to the biomaterials, drafting non-confidential summaries, and identifying potential licensees. As a result of his internship, he is now the inventor of OHSU technology #2054, “A guide for rapid assessment of antibodies following disclosure.” Tran is currently negotiating a permanent position with a biotech startup company in the Portland area.

Internship applications now being accepted
TTBD is currently accepting internship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Applications must be submitted by Friday, Aug. 21. To learn more about the internship program and apply, please visit the TTBD website.

OCT angiography summit draws international attention to pioneering technology

Scientists, clinicians, and engineers from around the world gathered at OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute in July for the first international Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) Angiography Summit. Participants spent the day sharing their knowledge and discussing applications of a pioneering imaging technology that has the potential to transform how we diagnose and treat patients with common causes of blindness, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.

James Fujimoto, Ph.D., was the summit’s distinguished guest speaker, discussing  ultra-high-speed OCT angiography. Fujimoto was a co-inventor of the first OCT system with OHSU’s David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., and is a leading expert in OCT imaging. Some of the editors of the recently published Clinical OCT Angiography Atlas –  Bruno Lumbros, M.D., of Italy, Andre Romano, M.D. of Brazil, Huang and Yali Jia, Ph.D., both of Casey Eye Institute – were also in attendance to discuss their work.

Using light waves to view the inner eye
OCT angiography is a noninvasive imaging technique for visualizing and measuring blood flow in the back of the eye. The device uses infrared light waves to capture detailed cross-sectional images of the retina’s layers. It can visualize the smallest defects in the tiny blood vessels in the eye. By contrast, conventional OCT allows physicians to view fluid and swelling in the retina, but not the abnormal vessels that are the hallmarks of severe macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Another method – fluorescein angiography – can illuminate these miniscule but destructive vessels, but requires intravenous injection of a contrast dye. Dye-based angiography has its drawbacks, however, causing side effects such as nausea and vomiting. It can also obscure views of the retina’s inner layers should the dye leak or cause staining.

Casey Eye Institute: Exploring a new era in imaging technology
The Casey Eye Institute was a natural host for the OCT summit. Casey Eye faculty member David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., Peterson Professor of Ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine, co-invented the first OCT system in the 1990s. His research lab has been testing software they developed called split-spectrum amplitude-decorrelation angiography algorithm (SSADA). Used with newer ultrafast OCT devices, this technology can map out the eye’s smallest capillaries and measure blood flow in about three seconds with high resolution. With fluorescein angiography, it takes 10 minutes.

Their lab, along with other study centers around the world, is testing OCT angiography with SSADA and comparing it to dye-based tests, They recently published research demonstrating that SSADA-based OCT angiography has advantages over dye-based methods for managing eye disease. In July, they showed that glaucoma can also be better managed by using this technology to study blood flow in the back of the eye.

Casey Eye investigators continue to explore new ways to refine OCT angiography using SSADA. OHSU has filed patent applications for the SSADA invention, which is licensed to a commercial company and is already being used clinically by physicians outside the U.S. It is also being used for research in the U.S., where it awaits FDA approval for wider application.

OCTRI Announces 2016 Community Research Coalition Grant recipients

The Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute (OCTRI) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2016 Community Research Coalition Grant (CRCG). This program funds proposals from community organizations within three regional research coalitions in Oregon. The CRCG supports local efforts to plan, implement, and evaluate research projects that address local health and wellness issues. It also cultivates and strengthens collaborations between OHSU investigators and statewide community partners.

Jackie Shannon, director of the Integrated Program in Community Research, said,“This is a wonderful opportunity for OHSU to support community organizations in developing rigorous, evidence-based approaches to addressing the health-related concerns that are of greatest importance to them.”

Click here to read full project abstracts. Congratulations to the 2016 CRCG winners:

FromwillerVenus Fromwiller, North Coast Coalition

“Get your rear in gear: A community-based colorectal cancer screening campaign”



KothariBrianne Kothari, Central Oregon Coalition

“Family finding: Relationships as pathways to better health and well-being for children and youth in foster care”



MachadoStephanie Machado, South Coast Coalition

“Exploring risk factors and trends associated with low birth weight in Klamath County”



Pourtal-StevensFlorence Pourtal-Stevens, South Coast Coalition

“Collection of feasibility data on existing obesity prevention programs and built environments in Coos County”



SmithGracie Smith, North Coast Coalition

“The Fitbit wellness program”



For more information on OCTRI’s resources and services, please visit: www.octri.org.

VentureWell grant opportunity Q&A session

Do you have an idea for an invention or startup company? Do you need help getting started? Well, a new resource has recently become available to the OHSU community.

VentureWell is a non-profit higher education network, cultivating science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship on university and college campuses,and moving them forward to commercialization. There are two available grant programs aimed at graduate students and faculty.Andrew Watson, PhD

Student grant program: VentureWell’s E-Team student grant program provides veteran coaching, experiential workshops, and early-stage grant funding of up to $75,000. (Deadline: Oct. 7, 2015)

Faculty grant program: The faculty program works to support student inventors by working to fund new, or modify existing, courses and programs in technology entrepreneurship, providing funding of up to $50,000. (Deadline: Nov. 4, 2015)

Andrew Watson, Ph.D., director of technology transfer, will be holding an informational Q&A session about the program to assist student and faculty entrepreneurs in moving new tech ideas out of the lab or classroom and into the marketplace.

Monday, Aug. 24, 2015
11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Center for Health & Healing, 3178


Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015
4 to 5 p.m.
Mackenzie Hall 2201

Questions? Please contact Andrew Watson at watsonan@ohsu.edu.

von Gersdorff team sheds light on how diabetes triggers blindness

Diabetic  neuron

These retinal neurons are the first neurons to be damaged by diabetes. On the right is a micro-electrode used to fill the neuron with a dye to show its shape and to measure the tiny signals from the neuron’s synapse

A new study published in Neuron,  led by Henrique von Gersdorff, Ph.D., is the first characterization of a group of specialized synapses in the retina, the part of the eye that captures and transmits visual signals. These specialized synapses are inhibitory synapses that reduce the activity (or normal ‘chatter’) between neurons connected by multiple excitatory synapses. von Gersdorff and his team–Veeramuthu Balakrishnan, Theresa Puthussery, Mean-Hwan Kim, and W. Rowland Taylor–from the Vollum and Casey Eye Institutes developed a new, exquisitely sensitive technique to directly record and measure the properties of these synapses.

In addition to providing critical new insight into the basic processes of synaptic development in the retina, this study provides a deeper understanding of the critical synapses that may be damaged in pre-diabetic patients. A major complication of late-stage diabetes is that people go blind because of extensive damage to the synapses of the retina. The findings in this study lay a foundation for the development of drug treatments to prevent such blindness–in other words, they may lead to exciting new avenues for treatments of diabetic retinopathy at an early stage of the disease, before it has caused major damage to the retina. With diabetes, the process of retina damage takes some time. If scientists can develop neuro-protective drugs that can be directly injected into the eyes early on before blood vessels are damaged, they may be able to prevent irreversible loss of vision.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that a Norwegian study discovered that inhibitory synapses were affected by diabetes. However, very little is known about them because they are small and inaccessible. The OHSU team was able to advance their electrophysiological techniques to capture the signals from these synapses.

von Gersdorff argues that whenever you study fundamental mechanisms, down the line, you find that they are essential for understanding and curing human diseases. The insights from basic research are invaluable for developing treatment strategies. He says that even apart from the clinical implications, this study of fundamental mechanisms is intrinsically important because it increases our knowledge of how the retina and the brain work.

The title is “Synaptic Vesicle Exocytosis at the Dendritic Lobules of an Inhibitory Interneuron in the Mammalian Retina”; Neuron: 87:563-75.  This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute (EY014043, EY024265, and EY014888).



Inaugural Director of the NIH Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs appointed

Kay Lund, Ph.D. will join NIH this August as the inaugural director of the NIH Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs. In this newly created role, Lund will oversee and guide NIH’s training and development programs aimed at establishing a highly qualified biomedical workforce.

Kay Lund, Ph.D.

Kay Lund, Ph.D.

Lund arrives at NIH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she held the endowed Sarah Graham Kenan Professorship in Cell Biology and Physiology, with joint appointments as Professor in Pediatrics and Nutrition. As an investigator, her research led to the discovery of two new hormones now being used in clinical trials and she is the holder of two patents. Lund is also a notable leader in workforce development. Her dedication to training and mentorship has resulted in many awards and recognition from professional societies.

Lund will work closely with the NIH Director’s Biomedical Workforce Working Group and continue to implement their recommendations. Among past recommendations, NIH is currently implementing the expansion of NIH institute and center participation in F30 and F31 training fellowships, the BEST program, the increase in postdoctoral fellow stipends, and individual development plan expectations. A new training website is also now available to help connect trainees with career stage appropriate funding opportunities. Learn more about these initiatives and Kay Lund’s new role.

Research Administration: Effort/salary cap refresher classes, Aug. 18 and 19

It’s been six months, and another effort period has come to a close. Do you need a refresher for coordinating effort certification or applying the DHHS salary cap?

We would be delighted to help! The upcoming refresher includes a review. You are welcome to bring any specific questions or issues that need attention.

Effort certification/salary cap refresher

Tuesday, Aug. 18
2 to 4 p.m.
Center for Health & Healing, 3171 1A


Wednesday, Aug. 19
10 a.m. t0 12 p.m.
West Campus, ABC room

Topics covered:

  • Review of effort certification process and DHHS salary cap requirements
  • Strategies and tools to ensure accurate, complete, and timely effort statement submissions
  • Opportunity to work through current questions and issues for this effort period

For a more detailed description, see Research Administration Training and Education Effort.

To enroll in the effort and salary cap refresher, use your network credentials to login to Compass. For questions, contact Margaret Gardner.

TTBD innovator spotlight: Carmem Pfeifer, D.D.S., Ph.D.

CarmemPfeiferCarmem Pfeifer, D.D.S., Ph.D., assistant professor of biomaterials and biomechanics for the OHSU School of Dentistry, became an inventor without intending to.

“When you get removed from your everyday problems, sometimes you can have an idea completely out of the blue,” she said.

In 2009, with a suggestion from her postdoc supervisor, Pfeifer attended a UVA/UVB conference to showcase what they were doing in his lab to industries other than dental. During a session on sun protection for outdoor decks of all things, Pfeifer started contemplating alternative applications of the UVA/UVB coatings in the dental field. While the conference applied to the coatings industry, she said the chemistry is the same as what is used in dental materials. Both applications use photo-polymerization. So she asked herself, “How can I harness this technology and translate it into a biomedical application?”

Pfeifer set to work on designing a new dental resin composite that would improve upon current resin composites on the market by extending the lifetime and durability. Currently, dental restorations, also known as “fillings,” are made from silver amalgam or natural tooth-colored composite resin. Current dental restorations using resin composite last between five to 10 years due to fracture and degradation. The composites are technique sensitive; the quality relying heavily on the hand skills of the dentist and how careful they are in placing the material on the tooth. Pfeifer worked to overcome these inefficiencies, creating a new durable dental composite that is more forgiving, allowing greater resistance. As dental composites are made of two components (an inorganic filler and an organic composition), Pfeifer created an additive that combines into the organic composition, using materials that are more resistant to hydrolysis and crack propagation.

Since 2013, Pfeifer has worked with the OHSU office of Technology Transfer & Business Development to commercialize her invention. Her technology (OHSU ID #1962), “Durable Dental Composites” has been featured twice at OHSU’s MedTech Alliance, a platform for investors, industry representatives, and community partners to stay up to date on early-stage collaboration and investment opportunities at the university. Pfeifer also received a 2015 Bioscience Innovation Award, totaling $45,000, to further develop the technology. Her plan with this funding is to further develop the dental additive to scale up to one-kilogram batches, ultimately creating a working commercial composite prototype. She hopes an outside dental company will license this invention.

Prior to joining OHSU in 2011, Pfeifer served as a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. She earned her Ph.D. in dental materials and did her postdoc work in polymer chemistry applied to dental materials. She’s also an endodontist but hasn’t practiced dentistry since 2008.

When asked if she had any advice for future innovators hoping to commercialize their research, she replied, “Wow, I thought I was too young to be giving advice!” She went on to say, “Well, have an open mind because you never know. The story of this invention is that I went to a meeting that had nothing to do with dental applications. I was completely outside of my comfort zone. So have an open mind. I think this is when innovation starts.”

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