UChicago (Credit: Wikimedia)

Two multiple sclerosis technologies and the data sensor Array of Things (AoT) project received a total of over $500,000 investments from the University of Chicago Innovation Fund this week.

The Fund distributes financial awards to innovative technologies and startups coming out of the University of Chicago community. The spring recipients of the Fund are 3F4AP, a PET tracer created to reveal lesions associated with multiple sclerosis during a PET scan; Therapeutic Human Exosomes, a biologic designed to repair de-myelinated neurons in multiple sclerosis; and the AoT, an urban sensing network of interactive, modular sensor boxes built by Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), according to the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), where the fund is managed.

The three teams were chosen out of five finalists to receive funding. Reliefwatch was also selected to received $100,000 from the Fund through an off cycle investment.

“The University of Chicago continues to expand the resources available to faculty and staff considering commercialization of their research discoveries and business ideas,” said John Flavin, executive director of the CIE and member of the Innovation Fund advisory committee in a release. “Teams have started to take advantage of programs like I-Corps and Lab-Corps, as well as office hours with internal and external experts, membership at the CIE, and more, and it shows in the quality of applications we received this cycle from across the University and its affiliates.”

Here’s a look at each of the teams that received funding.


Funding received: $225,000

Led by:  Pedro Brugarolas, PhD and Brian Popko, PhD of the biological sciences division

This team developed a PET scanner (an imaging test that shows how organs and tissues are functioning) that can help better show lesions that are key to finding and treating multiple sclerosis. Here’s how they describe their tech:

PET tracers are radioactive molecules that when injected into a subject can reveal disease relevant features such as tumors or lesions in the brain during a PET scan. The team took a drug that is typically used to treat MS (4-aminopyridine) and converted it into a PET tracer, which they believe will help doctors visualize demyelinated lesions in the brain and provide a way to monitor response to new remyelinating therapies.


Therapeutic Human Exosomes

Funding received: $150,000

Led by:  Richard Kraig, MD, PhD, Aya Pusic, Kae Pusic, and Lisa Won, of the biological sciences division

Multiple sclerosis and migraines, two interrelated disorders, cost the US $40 billion annually, according to the Therapeutic Human Exosomes team. Both have to do with myelin damage and increased oxidative stress, which stems from the brain not being able to produce new myelin. However, the team has developed a biologic (genetically-engineered proteins derived from human genes), and they will study its effect on multiple sclerosis-based myelin injury in humans thanks to the funding. Here’s how they describe their work:

[The team has] developed a novel biologic – microRNA-containing exosomes from stimulated dendritic cells (SDC-Exos) – that, for the first time, remyelinates damaged brain and prevents migraine.


The Array of Things Project 

Funding received: $150,000 from the Innovation Fund, and an additional $150,000 in matching funds from Argonne National Lab

Led by: The Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), specifically Charlie Catlett, Peter Beckman, and Kate Kusiak Galvin, of the Computation Institute

This big data project is hoping to utilize public data for social good around Chicago. Using sensors mounted in public places, the project will collect urban environment, infrastructure, and activity data that can be used by researchers, institutions, the government, and the public in order to make life more efficient in urban areas. Already the team has tested their product in locations on the University of Chicago campus, and this fall the funding will help the project grow from pilot to proof-of-concept, improve sensor design and tech, and support the initial applications built for AoT data.

“We have ambitious goals for the Array of Things, including deploying 300 nodes across the city of Chicago in the next three years and establishing partnerships with other cities around the world to launch similar projects,” said Charlie Catlett, director of the UrbanCCD in a release. “The investment from the Innovation Fund will help us propel us forward, supporting our intermediate goals of installing approximately 50 nodes in downtown Chicago, and beginning to translate the raw information and data into useful tools for residents and policymakers.”