December 2013
U of M spinoff takes rare adrenal cancer drug co-discovered by a patient into clinical trials

Michigan becomes leader in stem cell research

Dementia cases are on the decline, research says

Brain imaging could help to personalize chronic pain treatment

The University of Michigan has established a master non-clinical research agreement with Johnson & Johnson companies to accelerate the discovery and development of new technologies, therapeutics, devices and products. 




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Dear Colleagues, 

For the last three years, our Business Development team has been your "concierge" for industry collaboration at the University of Michigan Medical School. I am excited to announce that we are expanding this focus on partnerships and commercialization with the formation of Fast Forward Medical Innovation.


Dr. Kunkel

Part of our Strategic Research Initiative, Fast Forward Medical Innovation integrates the Medical School Office of Research's existing

commercialization teams - Business Development and MTRAC for Life Sciences - under a single umbrella.  The Fast Forward Medical Innovation team will bring a holistic approach to biomedical innovation at the University of Michigan, including: 

  • Establishing a front door for supporting biomedical innovation at the Medical School and the Health System.
  • Accelerating innovation and commercialization of research from inception to impact for therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, and health information technology.
  • Collaborating with commercial partners via novel partnership models.
  • Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem by enhancing knowledge of technology transfer and entrepreneurship through education.

The Fast Forward Medical Innovation team continues to partner with other key units across the U-M campus, such as the Office of Technology Transfer, College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship, Business Engagement Center, and other schools and colleges.  


Dr. Ward

As part of this new initiative, I am also pleased to announce that Kevin Ward, M.D.

has accepted the appointment of Executive Director for Fast Forward Medical Innovation. Dr. Ward is a Professor in our Department of Emergency Medicine and has an extensive innovation and commercialization track record in the fields of Emergency Medicine and Critical Care.

With the appointment of Dr. Ward and the creation of the Fast Forward Medical Innovation team, the U-M Medical School is setting the stage to dramatically increase the number of research innovations that move from our laboratories to the marketplace to ultimately impact the health and well-being of our patients and society.

Great changes are afoot at the U-M Medical School as we look to

Holiday Greeting
the new year! I invite you to view our holiday greeting, and wish you and your family the happiest of holidays.

Best Regards,

Steven L. Kunkel, Ph.D.
Senior Associate Dean for Research
University of Michigan Medical School 


Personalized Medicine and the Debate Over Natural Phenomena 

A Fast Forward Event 

Dr. Elenitoba-Johnson

How do recent Supreme Court patent decisions and Medicare

reimbursement impact your gene-based technologies?

Thursday, January 9
4:30pm Panel Discussion
5:30pm Reception
Seminar Rooms, BSRB
109 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor  

FREE RSVP Required
Join a panel of experts as they discuss the impact of these legal

Dr. Casimir

cases on the patentability of research, as well as the changes in the regulatory environment for diagnostics and potential impact on biomedical innovation. 


Co-sponsored by Fast Forward Medical Innovation, U-M Medical School Office of Research, U-M Office of Tech Transfer, and BioArbor, the event panel will be moderated by Robin Rasor of Tech Transfer and feature David Casimir, JD, PhD and patent attorney with the firm Casimir Jones, and Kojo Elenitoba-Johnson, MD, Endowed Professor of Pathology and Director of the U-M Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory.


Part of the Strategic Research Initiative, Fast Forward Medical Innovation acts as a commercialization navigator for faculty and potential partners, helping accelerate biomedical research at the University of Michigan and shape the future of human health.

More information and RSVP.  

New Drug Cuts Risk of Deadly Transplant Side Effect in Half 

Dr. Reddy

A new class of drugs reduced the risk of patients contracting a serious and often deadly side effect of lifesaving bone marrow transplant treatments, according to a study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. 


The study, the first to test this treatment in people, combined the drug vorinostat with standard medications given after transplant, resulting in 22 percent of patients developing graft-vs.-host disease compared to 42 percent of patients who typically develop this condition with standard medications alone. Results of the study appear in The Lancet Oncology.

"Graft-vs.-host disease is the most serious complication from transplant that limits our ability to offer it more broadly. Current prevention strategies have remained mostly unchanged over the past 20 years. This study has us cautiously excited that there may be a potential new way to prevent this condition," says lead study author Sung Choi, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the U-M Medical School.


Vorinostat is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat certain types of cancer. But U-M researchers, led by senior study author Pavan Reddy, M.D., found in laboratory studies that the drug had anti-inflammatory effects as well - which they hypothesized could be useful in preventing graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD, a condition in which the new donor cells begin attacking other cells in the patient's body.


The study enrolled 61 older adults from the University of Michigan and Washington University in St. Louis who were undergoing a reduced-intensity bone marrow transplant with cells donated from a relative. Patients received standard medication used after a transplant to prevent GVHD. They also received vorinostat, which is given as a pill taken orally. Fifty of the 61 participants completed the full 21-day course of vorinostat.


The researchers found vorinostat was safe and tolerable to give to this vulnerable population, with manageable side effects. In addition, rates of patient death and cancer relapse among the study participants were similar to historical averages.
The results mirror those found in the laboratory using mice. Reddy, the Moshe Talpaz Professor of Oncology and professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, has been studying this approach in the lab for eight years.


"This is an entirely new approach to preventing graft-vs.-host disease," Reddy says. Specifically, vorinostat targets histone deacetylases, which are different from the usual molecules targeted by traditional treatments.


"Vorinostat has a dual effect as an anti-cancer and an anti-inflammatory agent. That's what's potentially great about using it to prevent graft-vs.-host, because it may also help prevent the leukemia from returning," says Reddy, who is also co-director of the hematologic malignancies and bone marrow transplant program at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.


"We are encouraged by our findings," Choi says. "Vorinostat combined with standard graft-vs.-host disease prophylaxis after related-donor transplant appears to be safe and associated with lower than expected incidence of acute GVHD. Future studies are needed to assess the effect of vorinostat in broader transplant settings. We are currently investigating vorinostat plus standard therapies to prevent GVHD in transplants with an unrelated donor."  


Rehab Goes Mobile 

$4.5M Center to Focus on How Video Game, Apps, May Help Teens with Disabilities
Josh Marshbanks tests a U-M developed video game

A $4.5 million federal grant will allow University of Michigan researchers to study how technology - including apps for smart phones and tablets, cloud devices and a U-M-developed video game - may help young adults with spinal cord dysfunction and neurodevelopmental disabilities improve health and become more independent.


The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research will help launch the new U-M Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center (RERC), Technology Increasing Knowledge, Technology Optimizing Choices (TIKTOC). The center will involve researchers and clinicians from U-M's departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Internal Medicine, College of Engineering, College of Pharmacy, School of Public Health and the School of Information.


For youth with disabilities, limitations in daily living activities, such as schoolwork and moving around, increase their risk of unemployment, social isolation, financial dependence and lack of education access. They are also more likely to experience future health complications stemming from the challenges of maintaining their own health.


Researchers will explore how technology already familiar to younger groups, such as mobile devices and video games, can be used to implement innovative types of support, reminders and motivation for young adults with spina bifida, cerebral palsy and other disabilities. These new tools will leverage research in artificial intelligence and cognitive science to help adolescents and young adults develop skills ranging from self-administration of medication and emptying bladders through a catheter to managing stressful social situations and being motivated to pursue personal life goals.


"These youth are not only transitioning from childhood to the responsibilities of adult living but also face other obstacles from their injury or disability that makes this a critical period for developing skills they need to be independent," says RERC Director Michelle Meade, Ph.D., associate professor in the Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Department at the U-M Medical School and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.


 "We are using a medium we know this age group accepts and embraces as a way to implement self-management programs to set them up for success. There are some things you physically can't fix but there are so many things you can do to improve quality of life - our job is to keep seeking innovative tools that will help these youth lead productive lives." As part of the center, Meade will lead a clinical trial next year that explores how a U-M developed video game called SCI HARD - a downloadable app for mobile gaming devices that can be played using anything from hands to a mouth stick - may improve health behaviors among adolescents with spinal cord dysfunction.


In the first level of SCI HARD, players wake up in rehab, learning they have a spinal cord injury. From there, the game involves trips to doctor's offices, therapy to build muscle, and tasks such as renewing prescriptions and learning to drive an accessible car. Other challenges include managing rowdy club goers during a night out with friends, hosting an unexpected party, and defeating an evil imposter-psychologist named Dr. Schrync.


Within the game, players have to learn how to interact with other people, and how to get information they need in order to progress and eventually save the world.


Other projects funded by the grant include developing apps and other tools that can help clients report daily activities and track trends over time via smartphones and other mobile devices (Nancy Hansen Merbitz, Ph.D. of U-M's PM &R and Charles Merbitz, Ph.D., BCBA-D, consultant with Behavior Development). Another project, led by Mark W. Newman, Ph.D. and Mark Ackerman, Ph.D. in the Schools of Information and Computer Science, will also support the development of a cloud-based mobile system called SCILLS (Spinal Cord Injury Living and Learning System) that provides a virtual coaching program to motivate people to follow through on self-care.


 "Adolescents taking on increased self-management responsibilities will typically lack the life experience needed for anticipating, recognizing and overcoming regular life obstacles - and these challenges may be magnified during an age when they are transitioning from dependence on parental care," says RERC Co-director Edmund Durfee, Ph.D., a professor in the U-M Computer Science and Engineering Division and member of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.


"Technology offers new opportunities to develop and implement strategies that can be incorporated into healthcare practice and improve the lives of individuals with disabilities." "
All projects led by the new center are designed for easy transfer to the marketplace.


"Technology is unleashing the potential of people who have specific impairments," says Seth Warschausky, Ph.D., professor in the U-M Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Department.
"People want to work, they want to have a social life, and they want to be involved in their community. Technologies are allowing people to do more things to live a typical life but people often need strong support to do so." 

About Us
The Fast Forward Medical Innovation team at the University of Michigan Medical School works to accelerate innovation and commercialization of research at its inception, collaborate with commercial partners via novel models, and enhance medical education by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship at all levels. We help UMMS faculty and strategic partners collaborate, with the ultimate goal of accelerating research and technology to improve human health. To connect, email us or call 734-615-5060.
Office of Research
Fast Forward Medical Innovation is part of the Office of Research, where our mission is to foster an environment of innovation and efficiency that serves the U-M Medical School community and supports biomedical science from insight to impact.