Perhaps in no other facet of Georgia Tech’s mission is the power of partnerships more dramatically expressed than in the arena of research. Our longstanding and extensive collaborations with industry, government, healthcare, educational, and community institutions have yielded significant advancements in medicine, environmental sustainability, national security, and a host of other disciplines. The power of our strategic research alliances translates into healthier and safer lives for people throughout the world.
If good health is the foundation for a healthy life, then nothing can be more important for the future of our country and our world than the health of our children. That’s why Georgia Tech and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta have inaugurated a $20 million joint investment focusing on technological solutions to improve children’s health.
The expanded collaboration combines the proficiencies of both organizations with a common vision—to become the global leader in pediatric technologies.
“What brings us together is changing the lives of the kids. The children of Georgia and throughout the country deserve the best care we can provide,” said Children’s President and CEO Donna Hyland. “At Children’s, our mission is to make kids better today and healthier tomorrow. We can do so much more with a strong partnership with Georgia Tech. Our $20 million alliance makes it clear just how committed both parties are to helping kids and provides an extraordinary opportunity for others who care about kids to join us.”
“This initiative also builds on our existing partnerships with other medical education leaders in the state and represents another example of how we are strategically fostering alliances that will help improve the human condition,” said President G. P. “Bud” Peterson. “This collaboration will not only improve the lives of children, but also create new technologies that will lead to new products, new companies, and more jobs for Georgia.”
Associate Professor Hang Lu holds a microfluidic chip that is part of a new automated system that uses artificial intelligence and cutting-edge image processing to automatically examine large numbers of nematodes used for genetic research. Progress in this research often relies on the microscopic visual examination of many individual animals to detect mutants worthy of further study. Beyond replacing existing manual examination steps using microfluidics and automated hardware, the new system’s ability to detect subtle differences from worm to worm—without human intervention—can identify genetic mutations that might not have been detected otherwise.
The enhanced alliance will support current researchers and recruit new researchers who will conduct fundamental and translational research. Georgia Tech researchers will work in close collaboration with Children’s clinicians to develop the best possible technologies for advancing children’s health and delivering pediatric services in leading-edge research areas from nanomedicine and regenerative medicine to innovative approaches for healthcare delivery.
The alliance has been initiated by a $10 million investment from Children’s, which will be matched by planned investment from Georgia Tech, culminating in a $20 million commitment to research focusing on pediatric technology and fundamental and translational research.
In another vital partnership, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded nearly $2 million to researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University to develop a new class of therapeutics for treating traumatic injuries and degenerative diseases. The five-year project focuses on developing biomaterials capable of capturing certain molecules and delivering them to wound sites to enhance tissue regeneration in adults. By applying these unique molecules, clinicians may be able to harness the regenerative power of stem cells while avoiding concerns of tumor formation and immune system compatibility associated with most stem cell transplantation approaches.
“Pre-clinical and clinical evidence strongly suggests that the biomolecules produced by stem cells significantly impact tissue regeneration independent of differentiation into functionally competent cells,” said Todd McDevitt, director of the Stem Cell Engineering Center at Georgia Tech and an associate professor of biomedical engineering. “We want to find out if the signaling molecules responsible for scarless wound healing and functional tissue restoration during early stages of embryological development can be used with adult wounds to produce successful tissue regeneration without scar formation.”
The grant includes plans for engineering biomaterials that can efficiently capture morphogens, which are molecules secreted by embryonic stem cells undergoing differentiation. The study will also evaluate the regenerative activity of molecule-filled biomaterials in animal models of dermal wound healing, hind limb ischemia, and bone fractures. Examining the effects of the morphogens on a range of animal wound models will increase the likelihood of success and define any limitations of the technology, such as its use for specific tissues or injuries.
Another joint Georgia Tech/Emory effort has yielded technology for delivering drugs and other therapeutics to specific locations in the eye, and this technology has provided the foundation for a startup company that has received a $4 million venture capital investment.
The Atlanta-based startup, Clearside Biomedical, plans to develop microinjection technology that will use hollow microneedles to precisely target therapeutics within the eye. If the technique proves successful in clinical trials and wins regulatory approval, it could provide an improved method for treating diseases that affect the back of the eye, including age-related macular degeneration.
The technology was developed in collaboration between the research groups of Mark Prausnitz, a Regents’ Professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Henry Edelhauser, an Emory ophthalmology professor. Research leading to development of the technology was sponsored by the NIH.
“We expect that targeting drug delivery within the eye will be helpful because we should be able to concentrate drugs at the disease sites where they need to act, and keep them away from other locations,” said Prausnitz. “This could reduce side effects and possibly also decrease the dose required.”
Using technological innovation to improve the lives of people with disabilities is the focus of two ongoing projects.
In one project, this important goal is being furthered by a $4.75 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to Georgia Tech and Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. The grant—awarded for research and development of wireless technologies aimed at enhancing the lives of people with disabilities—supports the continuation of a decade of innovative research and engineering at the Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC), a collaboration between Shepherd Center and Georgia Tech.
“This funding will allow us to move into new and emerging areas and leverage our relationships with the wireless industry, disability organizations, governmental agencies, and other researchers and engineers to promote equitable access to wireless technologies and to develop new assistive technologies built on wireless platforms,” said Helena Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP) in the School of Public Policy and principal investigator and co-director of the Wireless RERC grant. “This award affirms the growing importance of wireless technologies for those who have disabilities.” The award is the third consecutive five-year grant received by this team of researchers and engineers.
“The rapid pace at which wireless technology has evolved over the past several years—a pace that is expected to accelerate in the future—requires ongoing effort to ensure that the accessibility needs of people with disabilities are incorporated into new technologies,” said Mike Jones, director of Shepherd’s Crawford Research Institute and co-director for the Wireless RERC grant.
In technology development, the Wireless RERC will launch a new incubator to develop software applications (“apps”); the Apps Factory will fund innovative internal and external ideas on a competitive basis to provide apps to people with disabilities across a wide range of platforms. This work will enhance accessibility to this critical wireless technology and build new assistive tools based on these “smart” wireless platforms. Additionally, the Wireless RERC will continue its work developing solutions to enhance the effectiveness and accessibility of emergency alerting and access to 9-1-1 emergency services.
The Wireless RERC will also continue its focus on consumer and public policy research, including wireless use and usability by consumers with disabilities and studies that may shape the development of public policy primarily related to general accessibility and emergency communications.
Georgia Tech participants in the Wireless RERC also include the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access, College of Computing, Interactive Media Technology Center, School of Public Policy, and the School of Psychology.
In a second initiative focused on those with disabilities, the College of Computing’s Robots for Humanity project is helping a quadriplegic man with basic movements via the aid of a Personal Robot 2 (PR2).
Since his stroke ten years ago, Henry Evans has been unable to scratch an itch or shave his face. But now, even though he is mute and quadriplegic, he can scratch himself and shave his cheek with the aid of a PR2 in a laboratory setting. The initial steps show great potential for the role of personal robots in assisting individuals with disabilities.
“This is just the beginning,” said Charlie Kemp, director of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech and assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “We hope to really push on these technologies so robots like this can actually help people every day.”
The Robots for Humanity project—a collaboration of Georgia Tech, Willow Garage, and Henry and Jane Evans of Palo Alto, California—started somewhat serendipitously. Last year, Henry Evans saw Kemp on CNN demonstrating his research with the PR2, a robot built by private research lab Willow Garage. Evans was excited about the robot’s potential to help him, so he contacted Willow Garage and Kemp to see if they would be willing to work with him.
After crafting various interfaces, tools, and control software to help Evans perform more tasks on his own, Kemp and members from his research team flew to California to work with Willow Garage researchers and Henry and Jane Evans. At this meeting, Evans controlled the robot to scratch his face for the first time in ten years. Researchers also were able to learn more about Evans and his needs.
After years of physical therapy, Evans can move a finger and his head, which allows him to use computers. In addition to bringing the team together, Evans has been instrumental in the design and execution of the research, Kemp said.
Developing young computing researchers to ultimately assume roles like Kemp’s is critically important. A $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts’ EarSketch project aims to accomplish this task by transforming how students learn computer science in American high schools.
EarSketch is designed to encourage Atlanta’s African American high school students to study computer science. The program allows students to remix hip hop music by writing computer code. EarSketch is based on Georgia Tech research that shows the relationship between gaming and an eventual interest in computer science is not as strong as may have been previously assumed, especially for minorities.
“Traditional approaches to teaching computer science are dismal in engaging non-white male students, and the numbers for African American males are relatively low compared to other ethnic groups,” said Brian Magerko, assistant professor of digital media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication. Magerko, the principal investigator on the project, is working with co-investigator Jason Freeman, in the College of Architecture’s School of Music.
“We believe that by leveraging the collaborative nature of remix composition and musically oriented computer programming, EarSketch may provide a successful alternative to the cultural issues that computer games have in the engagement of minorities,” said Magerko.
EarSketch will teach students how to use a digital audio workstation and to control musical loops and beats by writing small bits of programming code. The project involves collaboration with Mike Reilly from Lanier High School, where the software and curriculum will be piloted in 2014.
More than a decade after 9/11, national security continues to be one of the highest priorities of the federal government, and Georgia Tech continues to play a vital role in helping to address this priority.
For example, the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) received a $1.5 million contract to produce an online environment that will allow multiple design teams to work together to develop new military vehicles. The VehicleForge project’s goal is to create a secure central website and other web-based tools and methods that would facilitate such collaborative development. The work is sponsored by the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“The aim here is to fundamentally change the way in which complex systems are taken from concept to reality,” said Jack Zentner, a senior research engineer who is leading the project for GTRI with research scientist Nick Bollweg. “By enabling many designers in varied locations to work together in a distributed manner, we’re confident that vehicles—and eventually other systems—can be developed with greater speed and better results.”
The core website, to be called vehicleforge.mil, would enable individuals and teams to share data, models, tools, and ideas to speed and improve the design process. As part of supporting designer collaboration, the VehicleForge approach would allow participants to reuse the models, tools, and other elements present on the site.
In a separate project, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) awarded $8.5 million to a consortium of seven U.S. universities that are working together to determine the best approach for generating quantum memories based on interaction between light and matter. The team will consider three different approaches for creating entangled quantum memories that could facilitate the long-distance transmission of secure information. The five-year Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) is being led by Georgia Tech.
“We want to develop a set of novel and powerful approaches to quantum networking,” said Physics Professor Alex Kuzmich, MURI’s principal investigator. “The three basic capabilities will be storing quantum information for longer periods of time (on the order of seconds), converting the information to light, and transmitting the information over long distances. We aim to create large-scale systems that use entanglement for quantum communication and potentially also quantum computing.” ■