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Six projects receive funding during inaugural Cougar Cage event

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Realistic 3D printed heart components and a tool that can rapidly grow cancer-fighting T cells are among the projects being supported by a group of passionate Washington State University graduates.

Palouse Club members agreed to fund six projects presented to them during the first ever Cougar Cage event in March. Cougar Cage is modeled after the popular entrepreneurial TV show “Shark Tank”, giving students, faculty, and staff from across the WSU system the opportunity to receive between $20,000 and $50,000 in support.

While initially agreeing to fund at least half of the projects, the Palouse Club members opted to support all six projects presented to them during Cougar Cage last month. Their total support for the first round of projects totals nearly $300,000.

“We were blown away by the depth of research and the potential impact of all the projects presented to our group,” says Jon Jones, founder of the Palouse Club. “There is incredible, game-changing research going on at WSU. Our goal through the Cougar Cage is to help celebrate and support ideas that have the potential to change the world.”

The supported projects span diverse programs and causes across the WSU system:

  • Honors Student Support:

    The WSU Honors College sought funds to support undergraduate research experiences for pre-med students selected or intending to apply for the Honors Pathway Program. The program enables prospective medical students to receive mentoring from WSU Spokane Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine faculty as well as engage in research and complete competitive undergraduate academic requirements.

  • Fighting hearing loss:

    WSU Vancouver’s Allison Coffin and John Harkness will use machine learning to develop a predictive tool to combat drug-induced hearing loss. The approach is similar to processes used to predict drug toxicity for other organs like the heart and liver.

  • Producing cancer-fighting cells:

    Ananta Technologies, which was created to commercialize technology developed by WSU professor Bernard Van Wie, is working to develop a miniaturized version of their centrifugal bioreactor capable of rapidly growing cancer-fighting T-cells. The technology would enhance immunotherapy treatments, which harness the power of the body’s natural immune response to target cancer cells in a more direct way than treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

  • Bear research to benefit humans:

    Joanna Kelley, an associate professor within the School of Biological Sciences, is working to advance researchers’ understanding of obesity and its metabolic complications by looking to bears. Specifically, Kelley will study hibernating grizzly bears to better understand their naturally reversible obesity and insulin resistance and how it might apply to humans.

  • Testing dog DNA for drug-toxicity:

    Addressing the problem of some dogs becoming sick or dying as a result of taking certain drugs is the challenge facing Dr. Katrina Mealey, a professor and Richard L. Ott Endowed Chair in Small Animal Medicine and Research with the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. She plans to use her Cougar Cage funding to purchase a flow cytometry unit that’ll be used to accurately identify drugs that will be toxic to dogs flagged by a DNA test previously commercialized by WSU.

  • 3D heart models:

    Developing 3D printed cardiac models that are more representative of their real-world counterparts is the ambition of Kaiyan Qiu, an assistant professor with the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. His project will involve collecting data on organs, improving 3D printable materials and designing sensors to produce a model that gives medical professionals more realistic preoperative surgical rehearsals. It will also allow them to conduct better medical device evaluations and predict post-operative complications.

Each project was approved for the full requested funding by the Palouse Club as part of Cougar Cage. WSU President Schulz and Mike Connell, acting vice president for advancement and CEO of the WSU Foundation joined members of the Palouse Club for the first Cougar Cage event.

Another Cougar Cage event is planned for the fall of 2021.

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