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Dartmouth's First Innovations Accelerator Targets Cancer

Mar 31, 2021   |   by Julie Bonette

Update: Congratulations to Jiwon Lee, the Ralph and Marjorie Crump Assistant Professor of Engineering; Dartmouth Engineering PhD candidate Nicholas Curtis; and Seungmin Shin, Research Associate B, for winning the $50,000 Quinn Scholar Award through the DIAC competition. Their project, “Barcoded-Antibody Library for in vitro Engineering (B-ALIVE)” involved developing a platform that enables high-throughput screening of soluble monoclonal antibodies directly using in vitro assays, which will accelerate the development of novel Fc-engineered therapeutic antibodies for cancer patients.

Stu Trembly lab

Professor Stu Trembly's team is working to thermally treat lung cancer using minimally-invasive ablation techniques.

This week, 17 teams of Dartmouth students and faculty will compete for funding as part of the campus' first ever accelerator initiative. The Dartmouth Innovations Accelerator for Cancer (DIAC) is helping spur some of the most promising cancer research through the development pipeline to benefit patients faster.

Each team developed their own unique medical products and treatments, ranging from an electrical impedance probe that can detect cancer left behind during prostate cancer surgery to a microfluidic-based microchip with diagnostic applications. About 50 people across campus are involved in the 10-week mini-course, and five of the teams include engineering students and faculty.

Beginning in January, DIAC provided the researchers with support, entrepreneurial guidance from guest speakers and alumni mentors, and infrastructure to get the teams' projects into the marketplace. The goal is to help curate and improve the teams' technology and pitches for a presentation to venture capitalists and biotech investors.

"DIAC itself is innovative in how it combines a practical curriculum with exposure to investors who can decide to fund an opportunity that appeals to them," said Associate Professor of Engineering Stuart Trembly, whose team is working to thermally treat lung cancer using minimally-invasive ablation techniques. "In addition, the group discussions have made clear to all of us that the Upper Valley is more entrepreneurial than many might think."

"In the accelerator, rather than studying the fundamental research questions, we've taken steps to investigate how our research can be useful in a commercial setting and ultimately to help people. To my surprise, this introduced a number of considerations I never would have thought of in day-to-day research and provided perspectives, ideas, and contacts I never would have come across otherwise."

Dartmouth engineering PhD candidate John Molinski

On April 1 and 2, the teams will pitch their concepts to an External Review Panel comprised of 16 venture capitalists, including Thayer Board of Advisors Chair Samantha Truex '92 Th'93 Tu'95. The panel will then vote, and the overall winning team will be awarded $300,000. Second prize will receive $100,000, and third prize $50,000.

However, even the teams that don't win funding still benefit from the consulting and guidance provided by the DIAC.

DIAC, part of the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, is funded through philanthropy; Dartmouth alumni have committed $2.3 million to date. The accelerator is a continued top fundraising priority for Geisel School of Medicine and Norris Cotton Cancer Center and part of The Call to Lead campaign with a goal of raising $5 million by June 30 to continue growth in the program.

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