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Bartram's Garden hosts first annual 'orchard to table' dinner

By now, we've all had a taste of farm to table, but how about orchard to table?

The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) -- with help from hosting Bartram’s Garden (near our summer On the Ground home in Kingsessing) -- is launching its first annual Orchard to Table Dinner for 50 lucky guests.

"This is the first year we’ve planned something like this and we’re really excited," says POP second-year intern Alyssa Schimmel, who specializes in promoting POP fundraising collaborations with businesses and other organizations.

The dinner will take place at Bartram's Garden in Southwest Philadelphia, 5 - 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 13; the cost is $60 per person. The evening will kick off with a tour of the orchard at Bartram’s led by POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth, followed by a happy hour featuring beverage Yards Brewing Co., Crime & Punishment Brewing Co., and Kuran Cider.

Main courses will be provided by local farm-to-table caterer Seedling and Sage, with dishes including pecan chicken with wilted arugula salad, or a vegetable creation made with produce from Philly Foodworks. Mycopolitan Mushrooms will serve up specially foraged hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, Brine Street Pickelry is bringing the pickles, Metropolitan Bakery has the bread covered, and the coffee is courtesy of ReAnimator Coffee. The meal will be served family-style from platters at joint tables. Artisans, local food and horticulture vendors, and live music will also be on hand throughout the night.

"We’re really focusing on our native fruiting trees," explains Shimmel. "What plants do we use in orchard spaces? And how can we familiarize them to a larger audience?"

That means local apples, pears and figs.

It’s all about "bringing people together for food that’s grown in local farms, and using that to highlight the power food has in our community," she adds.

Proceeds from the dinner will support more community orchards. Each year, POP works on five to 10 newly planted groves across the city with help from volunteers. Dollars from the new fundraiser will help pay for the plants and planting, enable education with the help of on-site POP liaisons, and go towards upkeep.

POP currently manages 54 community orchards comprised of 1028 fruit trees and those numbers are growing every year. After the September 13 dinner, supporters can check out the group’s sixth annual Philadelphia Orchard Week (October 8-16) featuring harvest festivals and other events across the city. Volunteers are also needed for fall planting season, running late September through mid-November.

"This dinner is going to be a great showcase of a lot of wonderful work being done in the community, both by the Orchard Project and all of our partners," says Schimmel. "We feel very fortunate to be in partnership with all those who are working on making local food more accessible."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alyssa Schimmel, the Philadelphia Orchard Project

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On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Teaching the Teachers: Science Center launches FirstHand Institute for Educators

For years, the FirstHand program has brought Philadelphia schoolchildren to the University City Science Center, aiming to spark interest in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. Now FirstHand is adding a professional development program targeting middle school teachers to further boost STEM learning.
The goal of the pilot FirstHand Institute for Educators is to integrate the classroom with the 21st century science- and technology-oriented workplace. For three days (August 16-18) about 14 teachers from Philadelphia School District middle schools will meet with Science Center scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs, taking what Danielle Stollak, FirstHand program manager, calls a "deep dive into careers here." The participants will visit working labs at the Science Center’s Port Business Incubator and, working in teams at the FirstHand Lab, develop projects for their students that can inculcate the real-world skills that employers are looking for.
Those skills are not all technical -- the focus will be on what educators call the "Four Cs": critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

"Technical skills are teachable," says FirstHand Director David Clayton. "These are experiential."
The expectation is that the teacher teams will implement their projects in classrooms this fall as part of ongoing engagement with FirstHand, bringing their students to the Science Center and reconvening in January. A further benefit, adds Stollak, is the multiplier effect of training teachers, who not only reach many students, but can also become "brand ambassadors" and mentors for other educators.
This year’s pilot program, supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, offers participants continuing education credits and a modest stipend. Teachers who are interested should email Stollak. 
Meanwhile, FirstHand continues to challenge young minds with Taste Test, a new summer program that is introducing 15 youth from Sunrise of Philadelphia to molecular gastronomy and culinary innovations through active experimentation.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Newest resident at Port Business Incubator plans to disrupt cancer treatment

Quantitative Radiology Solutions is the latest company to hang its shingle at the University City Science Center's Port Business Incubator

By taking up residency at the Port, Quantitative gains access to an extensive network of resources to grow its business. Quantitative is also a participant in the Phase I Ventures Program, which allows early-stage companies to test their business feasibility in a low-risk environment. Quantitative received $213,000 in direct financing from P1V and additional grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

The startup is developing a technology that promises to disrupt radiation therapy and treatment for cancer patients. We asked Joe Camaratta, Quantitative's president and CEO to tell us more.

What is your big idea? 

Quantitative Radiology Solutions helps physicians make optimal treatment decisions through analysis of medical images. Our initial product, Automatic Anatomy Recognition (AAR), supports recognition, delineation and quantification of anatomical objects and diseased tissues in multiple body regions using CT, PET/CT and MR images. 

Unlike existing automatic segmentation approaches that work on only three to five objects in a specific body region and require an unacceptable number of manual adjustments, AAR recognizes and delineates all anatomical structures in a given body region accurately and efficiently.  

What is your origin tale? 

The company was [founded by] Drs. Jayaram Udupa (computer science) and Drew Torigian (radiology) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Udupa was developing a novel image segmentation algorithm that used hierarchical modeling and machine learning techniques for object identification and delineation. Dr. Torigian, who focuses on quantification of disorders using computer-assisted techniques, applied the algorithm in body fat quantification and obstructive sleep apnea to demonstrate its usefulness in radiology.  

Dr. Udupa presented the new approach during a seminar to physicians and physicists from the Department of Radiation Oncology, and was approached by Drs. Peter Bloch (medical physics) and Charles Simone (radiation oncology) about its application in radiotherapy planning. Drs. Udupa and Torigian contacted the Penn Center for Innovation and created Quantitative Radiology Solutions as part of the UPstart program to commercialize technology. I joined as president and CEO to lead these efforts. 

What is ahead for Quantitative Radiology Solutions?

Our initial application area is radiation therapy planning. We believe there are applications of our technology in medical oncology to help assess tumor response to therapeutic interventions. There are also potential applications in surgical planning and 3-D printing using medical images. 

Why does the marketplace need your company? 

The global market for medical imaging is forecasted to reach $50 billion by 2020, and advanced modalities such as CT, MR and molecular imaging will account for 50 percent of that market. The rise in the number of imaging exams and number of images per exams necessitates new approaches to augment a physician’s ability to effectively evaluate exam results in a timely manner. A quantitative approach to medical imaging interpretation can improve early disease diagnosis, standardize assessment of disease response to treatment, and enable the discovery of new disease biomarkers. 

What is your elevator speech? 

We combine 75 years of expertise in clinical imaging, computational theory and algorithm development, and product development and commercialization [experience] from industry-leading organizations in medical imaging. When applied to the field of radiation therapy planning, our approach enables a robust standalone software solution that significantly improves the speed and accuracy of imaging contouring to support initial treatment planning and adaptive radiotherapy.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Sick pet? The One Health Company sends clinical trials to the dogs

The One Health Company is sending clinical trials to the dogs. And cats. And horses.

The startup, a participant in the University City Science Center Digital Health Accelerator, offers a new model of contract research by conducting pre-clinical trials on already ill patients: aka peoples' pets.

The science behind the idea is strong, says founder and CEO Benjamin Lewis. Disease induced in lab animals is often a poor proxy for natural human disease. Currently, 92 percent of animal cancer trials fail in people.

But pets, many of them genetically similar to humans -- and who typically share our environment -- are ideal proxies for 350 natural human diseases. Lhasa Apsos and male cats develop bladder stones. Poodles are frequently afflicted by cataracts. Golden Retrievers get Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Horses suffer from osteoarthritis.

The approach, says Lewis, is also far more humane that inducing disease in lab animals.

"We have so many sick animals," he says. "Why create more so we can kill them and study them?"

One Health operates out of 350 specialty animal hospitals across the United States. Founded only this year, it already has 450,000 animals in its database and expects to have millions by the end of the year.

The company is currently conducting two trials. Details are proprietary, but their testing is mostly in cancer and endocrine diseases. One Health will test only for efficacy of pharmaceuticals, biologics, injectables, large molecules, medical devices and diagnostics. Testing for toxicology or safety is far too risky for client-owned pets.

Animals enrolled in One Health clinical trials remain with their owners and stay at home for care, returning to the hospital for evaluation by veterinary specialists, rather than being shipped to a lab or a longterm veterinary clinic. At the conclusion of the study, the hope is that the animal is cured or its symptoms ameliorated.

"I’m not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done with my own pet," adds Lewis. One of his three rescue dogs -- Lulo, a Doberman -- participated in an osteosarcoma trial three years ago. Lulo lost a leg, but is going strong three years later. The prognosis is usually just three months.
WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

This summer, the Pennovation Center opens sought-after wet lab space for small startups

For a small startup ready to research or develop chemical or biological innovations, finding lab space can be a challenge. Dry labs, which host technological or computer studies, or studies in fields like psychology, aren’t hard to outfit and rent. But wet labs -- featuring the equipment and safety measures needed to work with chemical and biological materials -- are another story.

This summer, labs at the soon-to-open Pennovation Center will help to change that for a select group of local companies.

About a year and a half ago, we covered the groundbreaking at University of Pennsylvania’s new 23-acre Pennovations Works campus on the south bank of the Schuylkill River: the three-story, 58,000-square-foot Pennovation Center at 34th Street and Gray’s Ferry Avenue will be the centerpiece.

The Center is slated to open this August. Its second floor will feature wet lab space available for lease to local startups.

"Wet labs are pretty unusual commodities" for this market, explains Paul Sehnert, director of development for Pennovation Works. "They’re usually built on a customized basis for companies under a long-term lease… If you're a startup company, it’s really a top dilemma. You need a space to work out of, but you can’t sign a lease and find a lab without making a long-term [financial] commitment."

The Pennovation Center hopes to remedy this with a 32-person lab available for customized leases (some as short as six months) for startups and inventors. These will come with all the typical wet lab gear: benches with view hoods, glass wash and sterilization centers, centrifuges, microscopy, and cell tissue culture and bioinstrumentation suites, in addition to safety measures like security systems, emergency eye wash and air change stations.

Senhert says the initial demand for the space is "robust" -- Penn is working now to "curate" which companies will be the best fit.

"Given that these are young companies, the more you can provide…this kind of sharing of basic services, that keeps the price more affordable and the [rental] terms shorter," says Anne Papageorge, Pennovation vice president of facilities and real estate development.

The Center will also provide programming, networking and training opportunities as a part of the package. This summer, they’re working on negotiating and executing license agreements for participating companies; the labs will be ready for occupancy in August.

The site offers two other lab spaces, adds Papageorge: a dry lab, and a currently empty lab building that Pennovation Works is holding with the intention of letting qualifying companies continue their work onsite in the future with a more customized, longer-term lease. The team hopes that as interest in the Center grows along with its companies, startups could "graduate" out of the shorter-term labs and into larger space. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Paul Sehnert and Anne Papageorge, Pennovation Works


Telesis Therapeutics takes the long view on drug development

In Greek, "telesis" means "planned progress." Or as Maurice Hampton puts it, "'progress consciously planned and produced through intelligently directed effort.' Which characterizes how we get our work done at Telesis Therapeutics." 

Hampton is founder of the startup which is based at the University City Science Center's Port Incubator. The early-stage life sciences company is working to develop and license its first acquisition, "TTL-315," a promising cancer drug discovered at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research.

"What I figured out is that molecules don't start out in [clinical trials.]," says Hampton. "They start out in the lab."

But the journey from lab to saving lives is a long, risky and expensive one. Telesis' role, he explains, is to identify, develop, de-risk and ultimately license the drug to a big pharmaceutical company that will conduct later-stage clinical trials, obtain FDA approval, take the medicine to market, and into the hands of patients in need. It's a process that takes years and millions of dollars, accelerated and made less risky by the work of the team at Telesis.

TTL-315 was developed to treat solid tumors such as pancreatic and triple negative breast cancers.

"Telesis Therapeutics preclinical, bench and animal, data for TTL-315 was published this past February 2016 in Oncotarget, a peer-reviewed medical journal focused on oncology," explains Hampton. "Preclinical efficacy results were positive: It worked! Preclinical toxicology reports were also positive -- a good sign -- and bode well for TTL-315's safety profile, a critical consideration in drug development."

The young company is pursuing a National Cancer Institute SBIR grant application and planning outreach to big pharma companies and other local funding sources to secure the necessary dollars to continue the preclinical research program. 

Hampton is ideally suited to the task: A serial entrepreneur, he has an MS and MBA, two years of medical school and years of international and domestic experience working at big pharma on blockbuster drugs including Prilosec  and the biologic Enbrel.

The lifesaving potential of TTL-315 is huge. The drug is initially aimed at pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.  Eventually it could treat triple negative breast cancer,  lung and liver cancers. The potential payoff also could be huge. Current forecasts for the drug, at the time of launch, are estimated to be under $100 million in year one, growing to over $2 billion by the sixth year.

With the drug still in its infancy, Hampton takes the long view.

"At Telesis Therapeutics, we realize that this is not a sprint, it is an endurance run," he insists.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Long-horizon tech startups get a much-needed boost

Entrepreneurs interested in "long -horizon" technologies -- those that require significant development and/or regulatory approvals in sectors such as healthcare, materials or energy -- have a new option for obtaining funding, expertise and other resources.
The University City Science Center's Phase 1 Ventures Program (P1V)  has emerged from stealth mode to widen its net and offer support to startups so new they might not even yet have names.
"Phase 1 Ventures serves the space in between our QED program (which provides resources to promising projects that are being developed within the academic setting) and our Port Business Incubators (which provide resources to startup companies that have already raised financing)," explains Science Center spokesperson Kristen Fitch. "P1V helps to 'road test' commercially relevant technologies outside the academic setting and to give them a chance to build management and raise funding."
Since P1V was soft-launched as a pilot in mid-2015, the program has supported these ventures, with several more expected to begin this year.
  • BioSignal Analytics uses machine-learning techniques to interpret medical signals such as electrical brain signals. The technology is from Temple University
  • LytPhage is developing a biotechnology that it hopes will replace chemical antibiotics in the fight against resistant bacteria. The technology is also from Temple.
  • PolyCore Therapeutics is developing a new drug to manage the side effects of treating Parkinson's and other neurological diseases. The technology is from Drexel University and Rutgers University. 
  • SDMI Inc., a startup formed by Dr. Chao Zhou from Lehigh University and Robert Michel, is developing a technology that will improve the speed and quality of eye exams.
  • A team including Dr. Oscar Perez from Temple University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Matt Handel is working on a treatment for psoriasis.
  • A team including Dr. Joseph Freeman from Rutgers University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Russell Secter is working on a technology for improving bone healing. 
  • A team including Drs. Michael Zdilla and Stephanie Wunder from Temple University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Grant Chapman is working on a technology to improve the performance of lithium ion batteries.
P1V initially provides up to $25,000 and a semi-customized package of resources including facilities, funding, management expertise, and professional services in areas such as intellectual property, regulations, reimbursement, market evaluation, grant preparation and financial management.
Once successful in securing non-dilutive financing (capital that does not affect its ownership), participants become eligible for Phase 1 financing from P1V -- typically $150,000. Phase 2, typically $300,000, will be available to teams that subsequently secure follow-on financing.
According to Fitch, PolyCore has become the first company to transition to Phase 1 and will receive up to $250,000 to further its development of pharmaceutical treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms. The company secured funding for its project -- through its collaboration with Drexel University -- from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
"There are plenty of options for the growing software and digital sector, but not enough opportunities for long-horizon technologies," said Science Center President Steven Tang in a statement. "These are the technologies that have historically been the cornerstone of our region’s economy."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

UE Lifesciences targets breast cancer diagnosis in the developing world

With limited access to screening, staggeringly few breast cancer patients in developing countries are diagnosed at the early stages of the disease, when it is most curable.
UE Lifesciences, a University City Science Center company, is working to meet that challenge with a low-cost, portable breast exam device.
Mihir Shah founded UELS in 2009 after several friends and family members were diagnosed with breast cancer. In April 2015, the FDA cleared the iBreastExam, a hand-held device that is painless, radiation-free and delivers accurate results in less than five minutes for less than $2 per exam. A few months later, UELS raised $3 million in equity funding. Now the company is using the capital to fabricate the device in Mumbai and scale it across India. Shah hopes to reach one million women there by the end of the year, though "even that would be a drop in the bucket," he says.
"iBreastExam is a game-changing technological breakthrough for countries and regions with rising breast cancer levels, most cases detected at late stages, and limited to no access to early detection for most women," explains the company on its website. "iBreastExam harnesses the power of innovative sensor technology, software computing and smartphone revolution, such that a doctor or any health-worker can offer objective and effective breast examinations, with ease and comfort."
The portable device is UELS's second invention. Its NoTouch Breast Scan, cleared by the FDA in 2012, is a contact-less and radiation-free screening tool, targeted at certain categories of women, including those at high risk for breast cancer.
Science Center spokeswoman Kristen Fitch calls UELS a poster child for the campus. Its core sensor technology was invented at Drexel University. The Science Center supported early prototyping through its QED program. UELS is also a graduate of the Center’s Digital Health Accelerator and continues to work out of the Center.

"They've been very flexible with the use of space, subsidized rent and great introductions to people," enthuses Shah.
Besides the equity funding, Shah reports that UELS has raised $1 million-plus in grant funding and $1.5 million in revenue.

"We are just getting started," he says. "We are looking to broaden our innovation portfolio and tap the huge unmet need for highly prevalent cancers in underserved markets. UELS is now a 30-person organization spread over two countries and growing fast."
WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Worried about lead? The Academy of Natural Sciences asks 'What's in Our Water?'

Last week, the Academy of Natural Sciences hosted "What’s in Our Water?," a free town square discussion and expert Q&A for Philadelphians wondering about the quality of their drinking water after harmful lead levels in Newark, New Jersey and Flint, Michigan made headlines.

David Velinsky, Academy vice president of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research, led the presentation. He introduced Debra McCarty, commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department; Lynn Thorp, the national campaigns director for Clean Water Action; and Dr. Jerry Fagliano, chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

Velinsky touched on the source of Philly’s drinking water: the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and the history of human use of lead in urban and residential infrastructure and industrial products, from Roman aqueducts to batteries to lead paint and leaded gasoline.

In the 1970s, lead in paint and gasoline accounted for relatively high blood lead levels in the first ever large-scale American survey. According to Fagliano, back then, the average child had a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per deciliter. Now, it’s less than two micrograms per deciliter, thanks to sweeping federal legislation to keep lead out of our homes and fuel.

"Lead is a potent neurotoxin," especially for young people, he explained.

"Water is not the primary source of lead for children," added McCarty: It’s dust and paint from houses built before 1978. There is no lead in any of Philly’s 3,200 miles of water mains. But on the private side, PWD estimates that about 10 percent of Philly homes have lead service lines from the water main to the house. This is likely only in unrenovated homes built before 1950. These homes may also have lead in old plumbing pipes, soldering or fixtures.

PWD works with any concerned client to test, monitor and offer affordable fixes for elevated lead levels that come from private plumbing.

McCarty said those worried about lead in their pipes can simply make sure to run the tap for a few minutes before drinking the water, which flushes out any liquid that might have been sitting in the plumbing lines for more than a few hours. The City also has a program offering zero-interest loans to customers who want to replace private-property lead pipes. PWD has a dedicated webpage for lead inquiries as well as a phone hotline: 215-685-6300.

"Flint is an incredible tragedy in many, many ways," said McCarty as she explained why the same scenario will never happen in Philly. For example, Flint officials changed the source of the water itself, with none of the anti-corrosion treatments residential pipes in Philly have, and did not comply with EPA standards for sampling and reporting lead and copper levels.

"Treatment decisions are always made on the best science," she insisted.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: David Velinsky, the Academy of Natural Sciences; Debra McCarty, the Philadelphia Water Department

UPenn's BioCellection may hold the key to plastics pollution worldwide

As high school seniors in their hometown of Vancouver, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao had some big questions -- and answers -- for a planet that produces enough plastic every year to circle itself in Saran wrap four times over.

Yao recently graduated from the University of Toronto and Wang is finishing her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Biology. Together they founded BioCellection. Now their team (which also includes Alexander Simafranca, Eric Friedman and Daniel Chapman) is the first undergraduate team ever to take the $30,000 grand prize at Wharton’s annual Business Plan Competition. And that's only the beginning: They also took home the Wharton Social Impact Prize, the Gloekner Undergraduate Award, the Michelson People’s Choice Award and the Committee Award for Most "Wow Factor." No other single team has ever taken five prizes in the competition.

Wang and Yao began studying riverside soil samples back in high school. They wanted to find out what the ecosystem itself might be doing to survive pollution from plastics. Traditional plastic products are made from fossil fuels, which come from carbon. Humans run on carbon, too -- our source is glucose.

"Could there be bacteria that have evolved with plastic chemicals as their carbon source?" Wang recalls wondering. "The answer is yes…Nature is very much evolving to recover itself. There is a solution in this biology, it just needs to be tapped into. Potentially this could be a large-scale commercial technology used to clean our drinking water."

Wang and Yao focused on how bacteria could be harnessed to break down potentially carcinogenic components of some plastics (like phthalates) that aren’t otherwise biodegradable. Their work won them the 2012 National Commercialization Award at Canada’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge and led to a popular 2013 TED talk.

In the labs at Penn, that work grew into BioCellection.

"Instead of tackling derivatives or additives in plastic, we’re [now] tackling the polymer of the plastic itself," explains Wang. "What if we can take this really big problem of the polymer, and try to solve it on a modular basis?"

BioCellection developed a way to engineer bacteria that produce an enzyme which, when combined with problem plastics in a proprietary portable chemical process, can convert that plastic into water and carbon dioxide. This patent-pending technology is still about two years away from the field, but its future application in plastic remediation at landfills, industrial sites, oceans and beaches could be tremendous, with annual revenue projected to reach $100 million by 2020.

A little further down the road in their business model, BioCellection hopes to launch a centralized processing plant that will use this enzyme to convert discarded plastics into a bio-surfactant necessary for textile manufacturing. With the help of collaborator Parley for the Oceans -- which is helping BioCellection connect to brands like Adidas that want to incorporate recycled plastic into their products -- the company hopes to sell this "upcycled" surfactant at $300/kg. It’s an estimated $42 billion market.

The issue of used plastics is a global problem: Because current recycling methods don’t generate enough revenue, over 90 percent of our cast-off plastics (even those going for recycling) end up in landfills, or incinerated, which compounds pollution. 

According to the company, "We can’t expect to change consumer habits overnight or integrate new materials immediately. It’s time to tackle the plastic pollution that currently exists, and that we’re continuing to produce, to save marine wildlife, keep the planet’s food chain intact, and protect human health."

Besides the $54,000 in total prize money from Wharton, BioCellection has earned $90,000 in grants and $240,000 in investment. The company is relocating to the San Jose BioCube in June 2016 for further development.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Miranda Wang, BioCellection 

KIZ tax credits expand east to booming Old City startup scene

Old City just got a major boost with the expansion of the University City Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) across the Schuylkill River and all the way to Front Street -- that means some major new tax credits for the neighborhood’s burgeoning tech sector.

Old City-based Arcweb Technologies hosted the March 23 announcement, with featured remarks from University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang, Arcweb CEO Chris Cera, and Mayor Jim Kenney.

If you go into a coffee shop near North 3rd Street in Old City -- or as it’s affectionately known, "N3rd Street" -- and "grab somebody that’s sitting there, most likely they’re a technology worker," said Cera. "I don’t think that’s found anywhere else in Philadelphia."

And he went further than that: "My 10-year outlook…is that this is going to be the tech center of Philadelphia, here in Old City."

Expanding that University City KIZ should contribute to that growth, which Tang called "a pivotal moment in our city’s transformation from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy."

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell instituted the KIZ program "to spur entrepreneurial activity," Tang explained. There are 29 KIZs across the state and three within the City of Philadelphia: the large BioLaunch 611+ zone that spreads north of Lancaster and Girard Avenues and I-95; the Navy Yard KIZ, and the newly expanded University City KIZ.

A KIZ is a special district that offers tax incentives to eligible for-profit companies in the life sciences and technology sectors. The program offers a statewide pool of $25 million toward the credits. An approved KIZ company (applications must be submitted by September 15 of each year) can claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of its increase in gross revenues in the most recent taxable year over the revenue from the preceding year, earned within the KIZ. This tax credit is capped at $100,000, and for companies whose credit exceeds their tax liability, the credit is saleable for up to $0.90 on the dollar.

In the last decade, 48 early-stage tech and life science companies in the University City KIZ have received almost $8 million in tax credits, with 21 companies nabbing close to $2 million just last year. Now this benefit will extend all the way across the heart of Center City and into Old City.

(For a look at one University City company reaping the KIZ benefit, check out our profile of Graphene Frontiers, working towards big changes in medical diagnostics.)

"As a result of these tax credits, startups are retaining jobs, hiring new employees and developing new products," said Tang. "Not only are KIZ tax credits being invested in our local economy, but they’re also strengthening Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem."

"It’s very exciting to see what’s happening in Old City," added Mayor Kenney. "The expansion of this [KIZ] will help propel that even faster and further than it has in other parts of the city."

Arcweb is just one company standing to benefit from the change.

"I didn’t want to have a tax credit make me move across town, from people and a place that we call home," said Cera. "I’m glad that we chose to stay and invest here."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: University City KIZ expansion launch speakers

Bringing virtual reality to medicine at Temple

Gamers, armchair travelers and sci-fi fans are all embracing virtual reality. Now researchers at Temple University are pursuing medical applications for realistic, computer-simulated environments.
Dr. Alessandro Napoli, a bio-engineer at Temple, recently spoke at the University City Science Center's Quorum about how this promising technology could aid in weight loss and provide stress reduction during cancer treatment.
In 2012, working under the direction of Dr. Antonio Giordano of the Sbarro Health Research Organization, researchers used avatars to teach and demonstrate healthy diet and exercise habits. In settings like home kitchens and supermarkets, the avatars modeled healthy choices. Though the sample was small, participants said the approach helped them change their behavior and resulted in weight loss.
The second project studied the use of virtual reality during chemotherapy treatment of breast cancer patients in southern Italy. It is well known that music relieves anxiety for patients receiving chemo. What if, instead, they wore headsets that simulated relaxing 3-D images such as tropical scenes, forests or mountains?
The researchers compared music and virtual reality applied for five minutes before, 20 minutes during, and another five minutes following treatment. Measuring several physiological responses including heart rate, the researchers found that virtual reality was as calming as music. The virtual reality patients also reported that they perceived their chemo sessions as much shorter -- a positive outcome.
More research is needed, said Napoli, but with minimal training requirements "this is a great tool to introduce to clinical practice."
Napoli also presented work on a system to assess balance control and determine fitness to return to active military duty following a head injury. The system is being developed with Dr. Iyad Obeid, a Temple engineering professor, using Microsoft Kinect motion capture technology and basic computer equipment.
Balance problems can indicate brain injury. In hospitals, balance is assessed using large, complex and expensive equipment that is unsuitable in the field. The alternative is often a subjective visual assessment.
Napoli’s field system can provide visual images of 25 joints and other measures to assess balance with no need for complex equipment or highly trained operators. Over the next few years, the researchers will test the system in actual field conditions using Temple athletes and ROTC students.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

BioDetego's technology predicts a cancer's return

For cancer patients, their doctors and loved ones, there is no question more pressing than whether the disease will return -- and whether chemotherapy is necessary. BioDetego, a "virtual resident" at the University City Science Center, is aiming squarely at those wrenching uncertainties with a novel testing platform that aims to predict which cancer patients will experience a recurrence and benefit from additional treatment.
Based on research by CEO David Zuzga and his mentor Dr. Giovanni Mario Pitari at Thomas Jefferson University, BioDetego was founded in 2012. The company raised seed funds in 2014 and, over the past year, has established a research collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and completed a pilot clinical study in colon cancer.
"Following surgery to remove a tumor, the biggest questions for patients and their doctors are, 'Will the cancer come back"?’ and 'Is chemotherapy necessary?'" says Zuzga. "The answers likely determine who receives chemotherapy and who does not, but unfortunately, these are among the hardest questions to answer with the current standard of care."
To address this need, BioDetego has identified biomarkers in tumors that are closely associated with how aggressive cancers are. As Zuzga explains, these biomarkers describe the function of a protein called vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein or VASP. VASP has a very specific and unique biologic function in tumors. It converts signals that the tumor receives from its environment into physical force, allowing the tumor cell to move throughout the body and ultimately cause metastases.
BioDetego's testing platform VASPfore determines whether the VASP mechanism in tumors is functional.

"It’s a bit like seeing whether a transmission is in gear or in neutral," explains Zuzga. "A tumor with the VASP mechanism in gear is highly invasive and these patients are much more likely to experience a relapse and benefit from chemotherapy. Conversely, if the VASP mechanism is in neutral or non-functional, a relapse is very unlikely and these patients may avoid harmful unnecessary chemotherapy."
The company's initial focus is on colorectal cancer -- the VASPfore colorectal cancer test could be available to patients in as little as three years after completion of two clinical validation studies. The potential market is large, with 80,000 patients diagnosed each year in the U.S. with stage II or early stage III disease. That number grows to 200,000 with European countries and Australia, where BioDetego has filed patent applications.
BioDetego is also investigating VASPfore’s applicability to other forms of cancer including breast, prostate, kidney and bladder.

"Ultimately, we believe there is an opportunity for the VASPfore platform to broadly disrupt the paradigm of cancer prognosis and chemotherapy treatment decision making," enthuses Zuzga.
The startup joined the Science Center as a virtual resident in 2014, affording it a physical address and access to the Center’s community and resources. As BioDetego grows, the company hopes to set up operations in the Port Business Incubator

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

GreenFutures takes shape at Philly schools

Last week, we spoke with Megan Garner about the School District of Philadelphia's new five-year "GreenFutures" Sustainability Plan which includes a big boost for recycling in all of the city's schools. Modeled on the City's six-year Greenworks Philadelphia initiative, the program is broken up into several focus areas.

Greenworks includes categories such as energy, environment, engagement and equity, and the District admired the model. Their Office of Environmental Management and Services sought out input from a partnering Consumption Waste Committee which featured representatives from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, Recyclebank and other school districts (including New York City and suburban Philly-area districts) which have had success with their own green initiatives.

According to Garner, the District chose five focus areas for its own GreenFutures plan: Sustainability; Consumption and Waste; Energy and Efficiencies; School Greenscapes; and Healthy Schools, Healthy Living.

Francine Locke, Director of the District’s Office of Environmental Management and Services, is spearheading the project with help from internal and external partners. She has a master’s degree in environmental health, and experience as an industrial hygienist; Garner studied geology and worked in environmental consulting.

"Prior to this [plan], we were helping with indoor environmental quality inspections," explains Garner. That included projects like the clean-up of oil or chemical spills.

They weren’t educators, but after focusing on the operations side at the District, they began to reach out to curriculum departments about incorporating sustainability initiatives into the life of the schools. Possible future educational options include a special science course, or an environmental or energy-savers club.

Building GreenFutures involved extensive outreach. Within the District, that meant connecting with departments as diverse as educational technology, transportation, food services and facilities management. Outside the schools, it meant creating relationships with local government, public and private industry leaders, nearby school districts, and institutions of higher learning.

Garner says that the initiative's five focus areas cover about sixty individual actions. For example, helping all schools -- not just ones with large yards – incorporate educational green spaces, and officially cataloging the green spaces and gardens that do exist.

"The goal is that 100 percent of [Philadelphia] schools will recycle," says Garner of the plan's major five-year push. Through recycling, the District hopes to "increase its aggregate waste diversion from landfills by ten percent over five years."

Does that sound low?

Maybe, but according to Garner, "we’re hoping to blow it out of the water. Every student will have access to a vision for consumption and waste. Every student will have access to a school that incorporates waste reduction practices and diverts waste from landfills."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Megan Garner, School District of Philadelphia
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