Two virtual reality projects among five funded by VCU’s Commercialization Fund

The projects include a VR intervention for treating youth at risk of substance use and violence, and ultra-miniaturized antennas.

The M C V campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. [View Image] Five faculty products and innovations have received a total of $150,000 in funding through VCU's Commercialization Fund. (File photo)

Two virtual reality projects are among five to receive a total of $150,000 in funding to help faculty push their research and innovations toward commercialization to benefit society.

The awards came from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Commercialization Fund, whose board of experts guide VCU’s Innovation Gateway in advancing faculty inventions with funding to improve their odds of getting to market. Typically, a total of up to $300,000 is awarded each year, in two rounds.

Nicholas D. Thomson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the departments of Surgery and Psychology and lead researcher for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health, is developing a VR intervention for treating youth at risk of substance use and violence. The VR Aggression and Substance Use Risk-reduction Training has been contracted by a VR firm.

"Innovation Gateway is honored to support VCU inventors such as Thomson through the Commercialization Fund," said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., senior executive director for Innovation Gateway, within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. “Over the last four years, we have provided over $1.2 million in funding to 40 projects. Recipients have gone on to receive more than $18 million in follow-on funding, and launch five Virginia-based startup companies."

Innovation Gateway facilitates the commercialization of university inventions for the benefit of the public to help foster VCU's culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and help advance inventions to a more mature stage.

Mark Lambert, CEO and VR director of VArtisans, recently joined the Commercialization Fund’s advisory board to assist in evaluating and guiding faculty researchers who create opportunities to explore augmented or virtual reality and experiential learning.

“It was great to see two promising VR-related submissions in my first Commercialization Fund meeting. I am really looking forward to VCU becoming a leader in the development of mixed reality technology,” he said. “The VR experiences being developed by Dr. Thomson show great potential as a short intervention that will promote emotion regulation in teens. While not overly ‘gamified,’ his design will appeal to adolescents and capitalize on these strengths.”

School of the Arts assistant professors and research partners Jill Ware and John Henry Blatter are expanding their use of VR as a teaching tool through their interdisciplinary lab, Embodied Empathy. In their projects, participants wear a VR headset to simulate the experience of being in someone else's body. Ware and Blatter are working with multiple VCU Health faculty members and seek to improve medical students’ training by mimicking an experienced professional’s movements as they perform lumbar punctures and similar clinical procedures that require practice and dexterity. The VR training could help trainees acquire these skills faster.

Lambert said he has followed, and experienced, the duo’s work and is fascinated with their use of virtual embodiment in training approaches to teach procedural skills in health care. 

Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., professor and associate chair for research in the Department of Internal Medicine, won support for a collaboration with Glen Kellogg, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry, to develop a pill to treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This condition is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States, affecting 30% to 40% of U.S. adults. When diagnosed, doctors typically recommend weight loss, which can reduce fat in the liver but many patients find difficult to sustain. There are no approved medicines to treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Ghosh and Kellogg hope to design a drug to treat the disease by inhibiting a particular protein thought to assist in the intracellular transport of cholesterol and other lipids, such as fats. They have identified 15 likely candidates.

Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a student team, won support to continue a capstone project initially funded by the Department of Defense. His team wants to overcome disadvantages of underwater communication systems by creating a fully automatic data delivery vessel designed to release a dissoluble, nontoxic, one-way transmission buoy. The buoy floats to the sea surface where it transmits its message of large data packages before dissolving in 20 minutes.

This invention means the transmission device could be freed from its tether to the submersible, eliminating restrictions on a vessel’s movement and minimizing the chance of its location being identified. A later phase could pair lasers with a differently designed transmission buoy for two-way communication. Topsakal said there could be applications for the work in the security and defense fields as well as in the private sector for industrial uses and deep-sea research projects.

Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, plans to extend his research the fund previously supported. Efficient antennas are proportional in size to the communications wavelength. Longer wavelengths allow devices to more easily receive signals inside buildings or in bad weather, but small devices that cannot fit an efficient antenna require more power to compensate for the inefficiently small antenna.

Bandyopadhyay devised a way to make antenna efficiency independent of its size. This would allow for putting ultra-miniaturized antennas, which need less power, into small areas. Bandyopadhyay said his innovation could be used by companies involved with radio frequency identification systems, such as credit cards, cellphones, medically implanted devices, self-driving cars and autonomous drones.

For more information about the Commercialization Fund or Innovation Gateway, please contact Innovation Gateway at ott@vcu.edu or (804) 828-5188.

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