An improved method of gene therapy developed by TTUHSC El Paso Associate Professor Huanyu Dou, M.D., has been selected for a 2019 TechConnect Innovation Award.
Dr. Dou, a researcher in the Department of Molecular and Translational Medicine’s Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases, received the award at the annual TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo, held in Boston June 17-19. She is the first TTUHSC El Paso faculty member to win the award at the World Innovation Conference. Two other TTUHSC El Paso faculty have won Innovation awards in the past two years at the Defense TechConnect Summit: Robert Stump, M.D., Ph.D., and Mingtao Zeng, Ph.D.
TechConnect brings together the creators of breakthrough innovations with companies and government agencies looking to commercialize, adopt or invest in those technologies. The National Innovation Awards identify and recognize the top 15% of submitted technologies as ranked by the TechConnect Corporate and Investment Partner Committee. Thousands of innovations are submitted from global academic technology transfer offices, early-stage companies, small business innovative research awardees, and government and corporate research laboratories.
Dr. Dou’s research focuses on targeted gene therapy, a field that holds great promise for treatment of inherited genetic diseases and disorders, as well as cancers caused by random genetic mutations or environmental exposure.
Her award-winning invention is a blend of biodegradable nanoscale polymers that is used to deliver genetic material to cells. Researchers have investigated these kinds of gene-delivery “nanocomplexes” for years, but have struggled to find a mix that effectively delivers genes without being too toxic for the targeted cells or the delivered genetic material itself.
Dr. Dou said she has developed a unique polymer formula that hits the sweet spot: Her “tunable nanocomplex,” as she calls it, has been proven to carry genes to targeted cells, with very low levels of cell toxicity.
David E. Snow, Ph.D., CLP, patent agent and senior managing director of the Office of Research Commercialization at the Texas Tech University System, said Dr. Dou’s innovation is expected to catch the attention of life-sciences and pharmaceutical companies seeking new ways to treat a wide array of genetic disorders and diseases.
“You’re talking about potentially having a completely new mechanism for therapeutics—all kinds of therapeutics—not just one,” Snow said.
He said the next step for the patent-pending technology is to have a large community of researchers test it, each trying a separate application, such as cancer drug therapy or other drugs used for diseases and illnesses.
“Any one of those that takes off begins to validate the technology and its creation,” Snow said.
Snow said Dr. Dou’s award helps put TTUHSC El Paso on the map for life-sciences companies interested in new and emerging medical innovations and technologies.