Issue Date: July 21, 2008
Most academic analytical research fails to make the leap to a commercial product. The leaders of the new Center for Analytical Instrumentation Development (CAID) at Purdue University hope that their efforts will propel more technologies across the chasm that divides the university and industry.
CAID's mission is to develop new technologies that enable discoveries in the life sciences. The center, located in the Bindley Biosciences Center at Purdue's Discovery Park, will focus on devices for use in drug discovery, clinical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and chemical and biological agent detection.
Purdue chemistry professors R. Graham Cooks and Fred Regnier championed the founding of CAID. Both have successfully moved technology from the lab to the marketplace.
Purdue's chemistry department has long provided an avenue to accelerate instrumentation development within the department, through its Jonathan Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation. In addition, Purdue helped launch the Indiana Instrumentation Institute, a collaboration with Indiana University, and InProteo, a proteomics consortium with Indiana University and Eli Lilly & Co.
The new center will combine aspects of these earlier R&D models as it seeks to push instrumentation beyond the bounds of the chemistry department and the university.
Although located at Purdue, CAID will exploit regional strengths in instrumentation. The center will collaborate with three nearby universities—the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign—and the private sector. Cooks hopes that CAID can also provide a venue for a consortium in which instrument manufacturers can share information. The center will attempt to boost regional economic development and promote close cooperation between analytical chemistry groups at the four participating institutions, Cooks says.
CAID will collaborate with similar centers at other universities rather than with individual researchers. One such center is the newly organized Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics Initiative at Notre Dame, headed by professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Paul W. Bohn. The Notre Dame initiative focuses on microfluidics-based devices for environmental and biomedical monitoring.
"These efforts are extremely well-matched to the strengths at Purdue in developing highly functional miniaturized versions of high-end laboratory instruments," Bohn says. "There is a strong feeling that we can address problems together that no single institution could realistically take on by itself."
A unique feature of CAID will be its prototyping program, which predates the center. This program fills a gap between the crude instruments built in research labs and the polished final products sold by commercial manufacturers, Cooks says.
The program got its start three years ago when Cooks and Purdue biomedical engineering professor Zheng Ouyang secured funds from the Purdue Research Foundation for instrumentation development. The money was earmarked to build a limited number of prototype instruments that could be sold at cost to people who would put them through their paces and provide feedback to improve the technology.
The first instrument to go through the prototyping program was the Mini 10, a miniaturized mass spectrometer invented by the Ouyang and Cooks groups and licensed to Griffin Analytical Technologies. So far, the program has delivered nine out of an agreed-upon 10 units to buyers at universities and government labs, with the 10th scheduled for delivery this month.
Selling the prototypes recoups expenses so that money is available for subsequent projects. A second instrument—a two-dimensional DESI (desorption electrospray ionization) mass spectrometry imaging system, based on yet another technology from Cooks's lab—is already going through the prototyping program. In the future, CAID itself hopes to develop other new types of instruments for prototyping.
"The prototyping program is primarily motivated by the desire of the people who have been involved in developing instrumentation to see an item go all the way through to where it can do some good," Cooks says. Commercialization is required for societal benefit, he asserts. "With regard to the Mini, I would have been completely dissatisfied if it had ended up being a wonderful scientific project and wasn't embraced commercially."
Although CAID will employ a small permanent staff, Cooks predicts that most of its personnel will be engineering graduate students. "There would be one permanent staff member associated with any project, but we're almost exclusively dealing with people who will leave at the end of the project," Cooks says.
Purdue will underwrite the center for its first three years. After that, CAID needs to find outside sources of funding. Cooks hopes the center will be operating at a $5 million level by then.
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