Commercialization grant backs brain-scan study

Brain matter: ALA Scientific Instruments and SBU's Biomedical Engineering Department will get the picture, thanks to an NSF commercialization grant.

The National Science Foundation is backing a Long Island academic-private partnership looking to turn functional magnetic-resonance imaging technologies into new weapons against brain disease.

Farmingdale-based ALA Scientific Instruments and Dr. Lilianne Mujica-Perodi of Stony Brook University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering have been jointly awarded a $225,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant by the NSF. The Phase I grant, which took effect July 1, will facilitate research and development of an fMRI-centered “Dynamic Phantom,” a potentially game-changing tool for the detection and treatment of numerous brain diseases.

Lilianne Mujica-Perodi: Brain gain.

Lilianne Mujica-Perodi: Brain gain.

A phantom, in this context, is a small device that provides a “clear ground truth” for calibrating a device or system, according to ALA Scientific Instruments. The under-development Dynamic Phantom has moving parts that can simulate changing states.

The grant awarded to ALA Scientific Instruments President Alan Kriegstein, the grant’s principal investigator, and co-principal investigator Mujica-Parodi is geared toward a device that will provide a better look at resting-state brain networks.

That will lead to better calibration of fMRI machines “across platforms,” ALA Scientific Instruments said in a statement, and ultimately to cutting-edge diagnostic tools for brain diseases.

Kriegstein noted “a lot of work” to land the “prestigious award from NSF.”

“These grants are not easy to get,” he said. “We look forward to the day when fMRI will be used as a diagnostic tool for a variety of brain diseases such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and even autism.”

The ALA Scientific Instruments president added that his company was excited to partner with Mujica-Perodi, who directs the Biomedical Engineering Department’s Laboratory for Computational Neurodiagnostics, where the focus is on the non-invasive detection of minute neural signals through various next-level technologies, including fMRI.

“We are happy to develop the Dynamic Phantom to assist researcher in calibrating their fMRI machines to obtain better data,” Kriegstein noted.

The NSF accepts Phase I proposals from small businesses in June and December and puts them through a rigorous, merit-based review process. Only “the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes” make the cut, according to Barry Johnson, director of the foundation’s Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships.

Phase I award-winners are eligible to apply for Phase II grants that range as high as $750,000. Phase II grantees are also eligible to receive up to $500,000 in matching funds through “qualifying third-party investment or sales,” according to the NSF.

All told, the foundation awards nearly $190 million annually in non-dilutive R&D grant to startups and small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program, which is focused on transforming scientific breakthroughs into commercially viable products or services.

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