Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: The latest developments

A better model for human patients, next-generation 3-D cameras, a fungi discovery and more


Humanized model: A project by Matthew Brown (surgery) is advancing a new humanized mouse model generated using surplus neonatal thymus tissue. While these kinds of animal models offer a powerful translational system to study human immune responses to new therapies, they can be slow to generate and experimental reliability is a big issue.

Among other advantages, Dr. Brown’s new model (called the NeoThy mouse) bypasses the requirement for fetal tissue, and more than 1,000 NeoThy mice can be made from one thymus donor. He has two main goals for the project: 1) make the NeoThy mouse a more robust research tool, and 2) generate proof-of-concept data required for scaling up production. This will be essential to meet the high-throughput needs of the pharmaceutical and biotech communities.


Single-photon 3-D imaging: A team led by Mohit Gupta (computer sciences) is on track to demonstrate next-generation 3-D cameras based on single-photon sensors, a new sensor technology. The unique ability to capture individual photons of light with extremely high timing resolution makes these sensors ideal candidates for low-power, long-range 3-D cameras. Applications include LiDARs for autonomous vehicles, extreme robotics and drones, and high resolution airborne surveying.

Gupta reports commercial interest in the project. Despite hardware setbacks due to COVID-19, they are making progress, including developing machine learning approaches for processing the single-photon raw data. Ultimately the team looks to design and test a prototype capable of outdoor operation.

Emergency simulation: A life or death procedure, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is used to provide prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to patients. Erick Przybylski, a simulation educator at UW Health, is leading a team developing an ECMO training device that offers clinicians improved hands-on practice in the field, hospital or in transit (e.g., ambulance or helicopter).

The device has been used to trial internal processes at UW and around the country, and changes have been made to increase the use of ECMO for eligible patients, says Przybylski. Incredibly, this resulted in a patient’s life being saved within 72 hours of the initial pilot. The patient has shared his story in a UW Health news release.


Plant promoter: It is well known that certain nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil produce a type of signaling molecule that triggers a developmental process in legumes, a textbook case of plant-microbe symbiosis. Now, a discovery from the lab of Jean-Michel Ané (agronomy) has revealed that many fungi do too. The findings, reported in Nature Communications, suggest that more than 50 species of fungi produce the molecule, called LCO, and in more diverse forms than anyone anticipated.

The discovery complements plant development studies being pursued by Prof. Ané through WARF Accelerator. LCOs have been commercialized as plant growth promoters for more than a decade, he notes. Thus, the new finding opens the door to more diverse chitin-based molecules potentially being developed to enhance plant growth.


Cell culture: Biomedical engineers Padma Gopalan and William Murphy report “significant strides” towards commercialization of their project, which focuses on improved polymer coatings for cell culture and biofunctionalization applications. The team has secured collaborations on campus and in industry that will help them further de-risk the technology for use by cell therapeutics manufacturers.

They say that participation in Forward BIO Institute’s Catapult program yielded important market insights. Additionally, a member of their team has worked with D2P to conduct customer discovery interviews, and also begun to explore federal SBIR startup funding.