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UT Research Foundation announces winners of the B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer

October 24, 2012

KNOXVILLE – University of Tennessee faculty researchers Gabor Tigyi and Tami Wyatt are the winners of the B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer presented by the UT Research Foundation.

The Wheeley Award is given to UT faculty who excel in the commercialization of university-based research results. The B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley Foundation provides the award stipend of $5,000 through an endowment fund, which was established in 1989.

The award was presented today during the Tech Council meeting hosted by the UT Research Foundation (UTRF), the not-for-profit organization responsible for commercializing and licensing technology discovered by faculty across the University of Tennessee System.

Tigyi is Harriet Van Vleet Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, and Wyatt is an associate professor of nursing and co-director of the Health Information Technology and Simulation Laboratory at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“Dr. Tigyi and Dr. Wyatt are leaders in their research fields, and their contributions are making a difference in healthcare, which leads to an overall increase in the quality of life. They are great examples of how the University fulfills its mission of economic development through technology commercialization,” said Dick Gourley, UTRF interim president.

Tigyi’s scientific work has centered on the biological properties of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) and especially LPA’s role as a fundamental cell signaling factor. One of the drugs he helped develop could inhibit potentially lethal injuries from radiation exposure. Preliminary studies suggest the drug can significantly improve survival chances if administered within 72 hours of exposure.

Working with colleagues at the UT Health Science Center (UTHSC), Tigyi developed novel pharmaceutical compounds acting through the same biological pathways as LPA. This drug development work has prompted the filing of more than 20 U.S. and international patent applications.

In 2003, Tigyi co-founded the company RxBio Inc. with UTHSC colleagues Duane Miller, Rusty Johnson and Shannon McCool. Under the group’s efforts and with Tigyi remaining actively involved in both the commercial development and the basic scientific efforts, the lead compounds (designated Rx100 and Rx101) have steadily progressed through difficult scientific and regulatory checkpoints. In 2011, RxBio was awarded a $15 million federal contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to fund further development of Rx100.

Wyatt has made significant contributions through creative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning in nursing education in the UT Knoxville College of Nursing and nationwide.

Early in her career, Wyatt identified a barrier to student learning was the unavailability of electronic medical records (EMR) in the academic setting. Often students were not allowed to use the EMR during a clinical rotation due to facility regulations or cost of EMR training for students. Wyatt partnered with a colleague in the College of Engineering to develop an electronic health record that could be used in an academic setting. Wyatt sought funding to explore the possibilities with her colleagues Zueping Li, Yo Indranoi and Matt Bell and received $15,000 in pilot funding from a philanthropic organization.

This small grant led to the birth of iCare, an academic electronic medical record for students to use in simulated educational settings. In 2010, the team received a $150,000 National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant to continue to refine and test iCare.

UTRF licensed the software to iCare Academic LLC, which was started by Wyatt and her colleagues to commercialize the product. The company and technology was acquired by Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott, Wilkins & Williams. ICare, now called DocuCare, is currently being tested in 200 nursing programs around the world.

The award is named for Otto Wheeley, a UT Knoxville graduate, who was deputy chair of the Koppers Company and President of Kopvenco, a venture capital subsidiary of Koppers in the early 1980s and his wife Kathleen. Eager to promote technological entrepreneurs in Tennessee, he returned to the state and founded Venture First Associations Inc. and formed a close alliance with his alma mater to promote the commercialization of university-developed research.

Criteria for the B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley Award includes:

  • The technological and/or scientific significance of the invention or creative work being commercialized;
  • The market success of the product or process;
  • The degree of active involvement of the faculty member in the commercialization process; and
  • The faculty member’s overall contribution to the University’s missions of teaching, research and service.

For more information about UTRF, visit http://utrf.tennessee.edu/techtransfer/index.shtml.

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Contact:

Elizabeth Davis, UT System Office of Communications, elizabeth.davis@tennessee.edu or 865-974-5179.