UNC Charlotte researchers have created a process and a product that may lead to a breakthrough in organ transplantation – but first they have to navigate the waters of modern entrepreneurship.
In 2008, more than 23,000 lives were saved in the United States by organ transplant. However, three times that number are on transplant waiting lists.
Large numbers of potential organ donors die from cardiac arrest, after which the body’s organs are deprived of blood and are rendered useless for transplant.
Dr. Mark Clemens, professor of biology and vice chair for research at UNC Charlotte and a internationally known expert on liver blood flow, said without blood flow organ function starts deteriorating fast.
Clemens and Dr. Charles Y. Lee, associate professor of mechanical engineering, have developed technology that restores function to damaged livers. Recently, the technology has been shown to work on kidneys as well.
He explained, “We’ve developed a process that can take those organs and what we call perfuse them — substitute for blood flow — at a low temperature, except with a special solution we’ve developed. The process allows the organ to recover its function so when you then do the transplant, it works.”
Clemens and Lee launched a company called HepatoSys to further develop, and eventually bring to market, the technology.
When faced with the opportunity to bring an original idea to the marketplace, university faculty increasingly find themselves in a quandary over whether to make the leap from academic to entrepreneur. But the concept of the “academic spinoff” company is nothing new.
Academic spinoffs have early roots in the formation of the modern university in Germany during the 18th century as research discoveries began to trickle into the mainstream, said Carl Mahler II, executive director of the UNC Charlotte Office of Technology Transfer.
UNC Charlotte has launched more than 37 spinoffs since the University refined its mission to become North Carolina’s urban research institution.
In less than a decade, UNC Charlotte formed 30 start-up companies that have attracted approximately $9.5 million in venture capital funding and created 75 new jobs, Mahler said. Of the 68 technologies transferred by the university in that time period, 62 were to North Carolina companies.