Two UMass Amherst Faculty Teams, One Faculty Member Receive Technology Development Awards from President’s Office

Earlier this week, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan announced that ten UMass system faculty research projects will each receive up to $25,000 from the Technology Development Fund, which helps to commercialize scientific breakthroughs throughout the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. Three of the projects being awarded are run by UMass Amherst faculty. The fund is overseen by the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV) at the UMass President’s Office in Boston.

“As a public research university, UMass has a duty to drive innovation that strengthens the socio-economic fabric of our communities, nation, and world,” said President Meehan. “With these grants, we’re investing in world class faculty who are carrying out our mission through their cutting-edge discoveries, attracting the highest quality collaborators, and bringing the results of research to the marketplace.”

The Technology Development Fund awards provide supplemental funding to help close the gap between UMass research discoveries and proven technology that address the most pressing issues facing the region, the nation, and the world, often laying the groundwork for major breakthroughs.

“These faculty projects showcase how UMass continues to realize long-term growth and achievement in its commercialization enterprise,” said Carl Rust, Executive Director of Industry Engagement and Business Development, who oversees the OTCV initiative.

This year’s UMass Amherst recipients of the $25,000 Technology Development Fund awards are as follows:

Carlos Gradil, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences

This project is advancing a new ‘frameless’ magnetic contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) based on physics and specifically designed to conform to a female’s body. The long-acting magnetic device offers the same efficacy as current IUDs, but with greater safety, easy insertion and removal and reduced pain risks without the need for strings. The modified devices will include traditional copper coatings to make these IUDs capable of providing a reliable, nonhormonal contraception option.

Alexander Suvorov and Richard J. Pilsner, Department of Environmental Health Sciences

The team is examining how advanced paternal age at fertilization is a risk factor for many health conditions in offspring, including neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders and different forms of cancer. Researchers have developed a therapeutic intervention that resets encoded epigenetic information of sperm into a younger state. Significant demand is anticipated for these therapies that will restore “young” epigenetic program in sperm of older men to ensure healthy offspring.

Adam Grabell and Tauhidur Rahman, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences 

The team has created EarlyScreen, a lab-based game and algorithm that detects the presence of psychological disorders in preschool children with a high degree of accuracy compared to commonly used diagnosis tools. Psychological disorders emerging in the first few years of life often persist across later developmental stages and into adulthood, resulting in significant impairment and societal costs. The emerging signs of psychological disorders are difficult to differentiate from normative misbehavior in early childhood, creating a “when to worry” problem for caregivers and providers. EarlyScreen’s algorithm automatically extracts features such as facial expressions, gaze and head movement from video footage.