A device that can detect illnesses, a method that converts a photo into a three-dimensional image and a superconductor coil that enhances the resolution of MRI machines: these are just three technologies spawned in The Enterprise Development Center (EDC) at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
Since 1988, The EDC has been helping inventors move innovative products out of the lab and into the marketplace. A high-tech business incubator housed in a trio of Newark buildings, the EDC provides office and lab space, financial help, business and technical services, and the shared expertise of the center’s managers.
The EDC is open to for-profit New Jersey enterprises, operating fewer than four years, which offer new technologies and are likely to benefit from the EDC’s three-year tenancies. With some 45 companies in residence, EDC’s goal is to reduce risk for fledgling entrepreneurs, ultimately creating businesses that will generate jobs and bolster New Jersey’s economy.
The EDC has graduated more than 60 companies, with products in biotechnology, information technology and other fields. Several ventures merit a closer look.
Almost daily, the Menssana Research laboratory receives samples of human exhalations to analyze. Just as a Breathalyzer can detect drunk drivers, a Menssana process can detect illness. It’s the same concept, though far more sensitive, says inventor Michael Phillips, MD, of Fort Lee. Samples are captured in activated carbon, sealed in small steel cylinders and then mailed to the lab for analysis. Menssana has identified distinct patterns made by more than 200 different volatile organic compounds exhaled in every breath. Phillips has proved that these patterns vary with illness and can diagnose disease.
In February 2004, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of Menssana’s Heartsbreath test. The test helps determine if patients with heart transplants are showing signs of rejecting the new heart. The FDA said the test may be used as an adjunct to biopsy. The Heartsbreath test is less expensive than a biopsy and non-invasive. Phillips has also published research showing that the breath-test concept works to diagnose lung cancer, breast cancer and tuberculosis.
Computer analysis of patterns plays a big part in another EDC success, a software company called CyberExtruder. Its core technology enables the conversion of a two-dimensional (2D) facial image — like the one on a driver’s license or passport — into a lifelike biometrically and forensically accurate three-dimensional (3D) model of the subject’s face or head. “Out technology was first commercialized in the entertainment industry for personalization of video games and for messaging applications,” said CyberExtruder CEO Larry Gardner, of Ridgewood.
Significant revenue is already being generated in these markets. This evolving technology promises to be a critical tool for the security industry as well as a continuing success in other areas.
With the help of the EDC, Supertron Technologies promises to take a vital medical tool further. Based on research at Columbia University, Supertron CEO Joseph R. Flicek, of Manhattan, and his colleagues have come up with technology that could make obtaining MRI scans cheaper and faster, and at the same time significantly increase their resolution.
The standard copper coils now used in making MRI’s could be replaced with Supertron’s patented superconducting MRI coils. Tests conducted in collaboration with Harvard University have achieved dramatic results — far sharper, more detailed images. Flicek says that “We can also lower the cost of getting an MRI and make it easier for more facilities to have a machine, including cash-strapped clinics in developing nations.”
Another fledgling enterprise in the medical field, Urovalve, Inc., has a superior solution to an urgent problem that afflicts many thousands of men. The condition occurs when physical damage or disease makes it impossible to urinate, a problem that may be chronic or acute. Chronic impairment can result from nerve damage due to spinal cord injury, congenital defects such as spina bifida, or diseases that include multiple sclerosis. Acute problems can develop after prostate gland surgery or damage to the urethra.
Most patients coping with urine retention of this nature have to rely on an indwelling catheter connected to a urine collection bag or insertion of an intermittent catheter several times each day. Urovalve holds a patent on a silicone device that is implanted into the urethra during a simple procedure performed in a physician’s office or by a nurse in the patient’s home. The device contains a metal valve which opens whenever the user wants; it’s activated by a pocket-sized magnetic wand the user carries. Urovalve received an award as the most socially responsible company at the New Jersey Technology Council’s 2004 New Jersey Venture Fair.
The innovative work of Urovalve, like that of the other companies housed at the EDC, clearly underscores why NJIT is involved in this effort. It has the potential to make life better for many people through technology.