NIH funds further development of Tech professor’s invention for brain research

Dr. Prabhu Arumugam, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering/Institute for Micromanufacturing at Louisiana Tech, has secured a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in collaboration with Advanced Diamond Technologies, a small business located in Romeoville, Illinois. The award will fund further development of a brain chemical probe he has been developing in his lab for the past two years.

IfM logoThe proposed probe will enable neuroscientists to advance the current understanding of human brain function by providing them with ways to understand neurotransmitter chemistry.

“This is very timely because the stakes are high, and we do not have a cure for many of these brain diseases,” Arumugam said. “For instance, there is no therapy for Alzheimer’s, a disease that will affect 130 million worldwide by 2050 with an estimated economic burden of $2 trillion per year. One of the first applications of the probe is for the identification of new stimulation parameters and new biomarkers for new and more effective therapies applying Deep Brain Stimulation, the most promising technique now being employed for improving the quality of life of such patients worldwide.

“I believe in this product,” Arumugam said, “and I hope this can translate later to a Phase II project.”

According to the federal government, the STTR “is another program that expands funding opportunities in the federal innovation research and development (R&D) arena.” The STTR program funds small business to collaborate with a research institution “to bridge the gap between performance of basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations.”

Arumugam is a member of the $6M NeuroNEM project funded by the National Science Foundation through a four-year grant to Dr. Leon Iasemidis, the Rhodes Eminent Scholar Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tech, for studying the epilepsy and memory networks in the brain. Arumugam also has his own funding from the National Science Foundation.

Being a part of the NeuroNEM collaboration was “crucial in translating this novel chemical probe from concept to reality,” Arumugam said. “Specifically, the expertise of doctors Iasemidis, Shabnam Siddiqui, Teresa Murray, and Mark DeCoster from the Center for Biomedical Engineering and Rehabilitation (CBERS) and the Institute for Micromanufacturing (IfM) at Tech helped me and my students in characterizing and evaluating the probe in various biological conditions. The preliminary data that I was able to collect was an important part of the proposal that resulted in this NIH STTR funding. With this new funding, we are developing a low-cost, scalable manufacturing process that can deliver a probe with reliable operation.”

Arumugam became part of the NeuroNEM team because of his expertise in the investigation of the chemistry of neurotransmitters at multiple length and time scales.

“One of the research goals in my group is to understand the underlying neurobiological effects of neurotransmitter dysregulation in epilepsy,” Arumugam said. “My research group’s expertise is in developing miniature chemical microarrays to detect those neurotransmitters in real time.”

Arumugam earned his BS in mechanical engineering in his homeland of India and earned his graduate and PhD degrees from the University of Arkansas. He performed postdoctoral training at the University Affiliated Research Center at NASA Ames Research Center. Prior to joining Tech seven years ago, he was a Research Scientist at Advanced Diamond Technologies, Eloret Corporation, and SFC Fluidics. He received the Outstanding Mentor award for contributions to the development of STEM workforce from Higher Education Internship Program, NASA Ames. He joined the faculty of Louisiana Tech in 2012.