UAB patent, researcher key to breakthrough named a top innovation of 2012

Honor for VIVO Biosciences from The Scientist magazine highlights UAB’s patent-to-market success.

A University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researcher and patent were key to a collaborative effort between Birmingham’s VIVO Biosciences, Inc. (VBI), and Virginia-based Global Cell Solutions (GCS), recognized in December as a Top 10 Innovations of 2012 winner by The Scientist magazine. 

hubiogel2_sRaj Kumar Singh, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at UAB and president and CEO of VBI, invented HuBiogel, a biogel matrix licensed from The UAB Research Foundation that is derived from discarded human amnion tissue. It provides an environment that enables normal or diseased human cells to survive and grow outside the body while functioning much like they do in the body.

HuBiogel was combined with GCS’ GEM™ magnetic microcarrier and Wiggler™ bioreactor, resulting in a system that enables researchers to generate and manage 3-D tumor or stem cell constructs that mimic in vivo (a biologic process occurring or meant to occur within a living organism or natural setting) growth, organization and biology.

"We expect 3D HuBiogel and HuBioGEM assay systems to play a key role in identifying better, effective drug candidates and thus in reducing drug development costs."

The award-winning technology, which allows the screening of cancer drugs before they go into clinical use and can guide an oncologist in selecting the most effective patient-specific treatment, has a number of potential applications: discovery of new drugs; tissue engineering/regenerative medicine for wound healing, repair of damaged nerves, and bioartificial tissue grafts; and evaluation of a potential new drug’s level of toxicity.

“My colleagues and I are honored to receive this recognition from The Scientist,” said Singh. “We expect 3D HuBiogel and HuBioGEM assay systems to play a key role in identifying better, effective drug candidates and thus in reducing drug development costs.”

Prior to this innovation, researchers faced challenges that included the short survival of cells outside the body and the inability of the cell spheroids to maintain tissue-like function. The HuBioGEM + Wiggler System became commercially available in October 2012.

The benefits of this new system are apparent to Eric Murphy, Ph.D., group leader of the cancer pharmacology team of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Foundation.

“We do a lot of our drug combination screens in this format now, and we’re seeing a lot of therapeutics you would have skipped over in our traditional screens,” Murphy said. “I think it’s getting us closer to predicting what will happen in vivo.”

Attracting more than $400 million in research funding each year from federal, state and private investments, UAB research alone drives an annual economic impact of well over $1 billion. As the largest single employer in Alabama and a national leader in taking its research to the marketplace through technology transfer and incubating new business, UAB has an annual overall economic impact that exceeds $5 billion and supports more than 61,000 jobs statewide.