To solve the myriad problems facing our collective future, innovative thinking will lead the way. In Wisconsin, researchers and companies are stepping up to do their part. From predictive cancer treatment to addressing water quality, Wisconsin innovators are doing their part to make the world a safer, healthier and more economically vibrant place.
Predicting the future of cancer treatment
Predictive medicine may be the future of health care. If proven effective, it will lower health care costs for patients, hospitals and payers, and have a lasting effect on the quality of treatment.
Madison-based Lynx Bioscience is one company leading the shift towards predictive medicine with the development of MicroC, an assay that allows researchers to replicate a person’s cancer outside of the body to see how it responds to various treatment therapies.
The company was founded by Dr. Chorom Pak, and developed out of her graduate research.
“We take a standard biopsy of a person’s cancer cells as well as their normal cells to test which treatments have the potential to be effective,” Pak said.
In 2016, the company embarked on a clinical trial using multiple myeloma cancer patients that will be complete by the end of 2017, when another trial is scheduled to begin.
Currently, Lynx Bioscience is developing its diagnostic test to already-approved therapies, Pak said. As research continues, Pak and her team hope to form strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical companies interested in obtaining FDA approval for new therapies.
“It’s a win-win,” Pak said. “We continue to validate our technology, and pharmaceutical companies can cut costs by enrolling patients only likely to respond to their specific treatment drug.”
The company has taken a more stringent route to FDA approval, but hopes the results will help validate the effectiveness of the technology.
“We’re measuring a simple response,” Pak said. “It’s whether cancer cells live or die using a particular therapy.”
Other tests are tied to biomarkers or specific genes, but having this type of flexibility will allow Pak and her team to expand the technology to other cancer treatments, she said.
Lynx Bioscience is already in negotiations to develop a pilot trial for leukemia.
Smarter, more active kids
Today’s educators crave new ways to engage children, maintain focus and increase activity in their classrooms, and Oshkosh-based ActiveEDU seeks to fulfill that need.
ActiveEDU is a platform that streams videos blending learning with active exercise directly into classrooms. The animated videos align with Common Core standards for math, literacy and nutrition.
“The videos are designed to reinforce educational content while also getting students up and moving,” said Jordon Rhodes founder of ActiveEDU. “Our goal was to provide teachers with a way to create active breaks within their classroom in a way that aligns with classroom goals.”
Rhodes came up with the idea while working in schools for nonprofit organization Junior Achievement. He had a passion for fitness, and saw a need he could fulfill for teachers and for students, he said.
ActiveEDU is free to educators and schools. It is funded in each school district by local health care systems.
The platform has been proven to not only increase physical activity, but also improve academic performance and decrease behavioral issues within classrooms.
“They are fun, interactive, and most importantly, engaging and entertaining for the children, Rhodes said.
ActiveEDU first piloted the program with students in Neenah, Fond Du Lac, and Oshkosh. Those schools increased weekly active minutes by more than 72 percent, raised cumulative math test scores by 18 percent and decreased behavioral issues by 8 percent.
“In one semester we see a student’s average total active minutes increase to approximately 450 – the equivalent of nearly a half a million minutes of total classroom activity,” Rhodes said.
Firefighters’ new best friend
Jeff Dykes knows firsthand about the relationship between need and innovation. A 20-year veteran of the fire service industry, Dykes often found himself in low-visibility, sometimes dangerous situations. Keeping one’s bearings can mean the difference between life and death.
So Dykes created the Northern Star, an eight-directional compass about the size of a quarter that illuminates when the individual using it faces north. It is designed to fit inside the face shield of rescue fire fighters.
According to Dykes, captain of the Eau Claire Fire Department, an NREMT paramedic and a certified instructor for the Wisconsin Technical College System, disorientation is the leading cause of death among firefighters worldwide.
The Northern Star hands-free firefighter compass is still in preproduction. Dykes has worked closely with UW-Madison’s IDEAdvance program and the UW-Stout Discovery Center to create appearance models and move towards commercialization.
“It’s been a long, bumpy road, trying to shrink the existing technology to fit inside the face shield and still be accurate.” His challenges now solved, Dykes is looking at his manufacturing options.
In January, he launched a Kickstarter campaign for individuals and fire departments to purchase the Northern Star for $99.99.
Post-Kickstarter, Dykes predicts the cost will go up, but plans to maintain affordability for budget-sensitive emergency crews across the country.
So far, the feedback has been phenomenal, Dykes said. The company is planning a national launch at the FDIC – Fire Department Instructors Conference – in Indianapolis in April 2017.
Safe drinking water for all
In 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan experienced what would become one of the worst water crises in modern history.
Milwaukee-based NanoAffix Science LLC, a spinoff company formed around patented technologies developed at UW-Milwaukee, has created sensor technology that quickly and easily tests for contaminants like lead, mercury and even bacteria in water.
“This platform technology could be a paradigm shift in water quality testing and monitoring,” said Junhong Chen, founder of NanoAffix Science and distinguished professor at UWM’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.
NanoAffix has developed a low-cost, simple alternative to water testing that can be performed at home, without training, for real-time results.
Existing infrastructure, ground contaminants and even an individual’s home pipes can contaminate the water before it reaches the tap.
Current large-scale testing methods are expensive, take days to get results, and require specialized technicians, Chen said. Additionally, municipalities are only required to conduct a random sampling from taps throughout their service area.
The NanoAffix technology uses graphene transistor technology in sensor chips that detects and measures contaminant levels in water and digitally displays the results within seconds.
Beta versions of the water-testing product are expected to be available in mid-2017, with a full launch expected before the end of the year.
In addition to the handheld at home testers, NanoAffix is working with its partners to develop continuous monitoring devices that can be affixed to products like filters, meters and other hardware.
The company has received equity investments from three Wisconsin water manufacturing companies including Milwaukee-based A. O. Smith and Badger Meter, as well as Baker Manufacturing Co. in Evansville, who will manufacturer prototypes within their products.
Chen also sees biomedical uses for the technology and is working with partners in that industry.
Fence-moving made easy
Matthew Buvala retired from the U.S. Navy in 1999. He grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin and currently operates a part-time farm in Pepin County. Twice a week, Buvala, has to move 500 feet of flexible fencing in order to rotate grazing sites for his free-range chickens.
To make his own life easier, Buvala developed a two-wheeled cart that makes the fencing easier to move.
Buvala soon realized that others might find his invention useful, so he contacted UW-Stout’s Discovery Center for help bringing it to market. The Center is Stout’s primary outreach and engagement organization and is dedicated to linking the school’s resources with business, industry, and the surrounding community.
The Fence Cart can be pulled by hand or hitched to a utility vehicle. One end is anchored, and as the cart rolls, the fencing is cleanly pulled off the angled, two-prong rack, ready for setup.
Buvala worked with a team of students at the Discovery Center to advance the design and manufacturing process and reduce the shipping cost of the product, resulting in lowering the retail cost from $475 to $300. The team also streamlined the look and assembly process. Buvala is now seeking a manufacturer to put Fence Cart on the market.