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Making Change: Making Change through Technology Transfer

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The area's business leaders believe a new convention center could be the catalyst to economic growth for the region. However, there are others who believe we should be paying more attention and energy encouraging "technology transfer." Tech transfer capitalizes on the region's strengths by taking all that research from places like Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic and finding commercial applications. As part of Making Change: Reinventing our Economy, ideastream's Shula Neuman sheds some light on the economic potential for technology transfer in the region.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003 at 2:17 pm

This is a sound most of us hope never to hear... it's an MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine. Y'know one of those big circular machines that doctors put you in so they can check out your insides? It's loud and you feel like you're in a coffin and it takes a long time... 40 minutes for a doctor to do an entire cardiac examination...

JEFF DUERK: That is with MRI we can assess aeschemia, infarction, wall motion abnormalities as well as get angiographic images of vessels within the heart.

And that's a huge improvement over prior techniques, says Jeff Duerk, professor of biomedical engineering at CWRU and University Hospitals. But there's one thing that the machine can't do, Duerk says: detect vulnerable plaque, the very first sign of hardening of the arteries, which is practically undetectable with existing technology.

JD: One of the things we know is that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the patients with cardiovascular disease, their first symptom is death. They just die. Which is unfortunate by all stretches of the imagination.

Detect that vulnerable plaque earlier, he says, and the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease could go down. As it happens, Duerk and his partner, John Lewin, have developed a catheter coil that creates a high resolution MRI of the vessel wall, enabling doctors to detect if vulnerable plaque has formed. The device has a lot of potential - perhaps a billion dollars of potential, Duerk says. With the help of the Case technology transfer office, Duerk and Lewin patented their idea and formed a company: Interventional Imaging Incorporated - or I-cubed. I-cubed is the ultimate example of technology transfer says, Mark Cottichia, vice president for research and technology management at Case.

MARK COTTICHIA: Most of the technologies in basic research, you're fortunate if it can be a feature in an existing product. And it's another leap if it can be the basis for a product And it's another leap if it can be the basis for a product, a platform technology, if you will.

In the 20 months since Cottichia took the helm of Case's tech transfer office, he's overseen two spin-off companies and 15 related business deals. The result is more than 10 million dollars in revenue this past fiscal year, up from 2 million dollars just two years ago.

MC: The 10 million we did this past fiscal year, would rank us approximately number 19 in the country. So we've gone from laggards to one of the top universities in the country in terms of technical transfer output.

To put this in perspective, near the top of the tech transfer heap is M-I-T, which grossed 35.7 million dollars last year and had 23 start-ups. Of course, they've been doing tech transfer for decades. So, if you consider that Northeast Ohio's other research institutions - including the Cleveland Clinic and NASA Glenn - have their own lively tech transfer programs... well, that's a lot of potential for new ventures AND for economic growth.

DOROTHY BAUNACH: Well, it's jobs and wealth creation. At the end of the day, it's good jobs, better jobs for people at higher paying salaries.

Dorothy Baunach, director of NorTech - a local agency that promotes Northeast Ohio's technology and tech related businesses - says tech transfer will work best for the region if it complements our existing industries: manufacturing and materials.

Baunach: I think what we're going to see is a convergence of these new technologies and our old manufacturing base. All this expertise will start to come together so you have tech transfer and commercialization and interaction that will hopefully spur the economy and create jobs - high paying jobs - and wealth for the region.

Baunach says public officials have started to understand the connection - just look at Gov. Taft's Third Frontier project, a 1-point-6 billion dollar initiative to invest in bio-tech and high tech research. The hope, Baunach says, is that Northeast Ohio develops a track record like Boston or Northern California. And if the current trend keeps up, the rest of the country may get tech-envy of Northeast Ohio.

In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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