Brandeis Innovation

Announcing the Winners of the 12th Annual Sprout Awards


The 12th annual Brandeis Sprout awards were announced today. The program provides gap funding from a pool of $100,000 to translational research conducted at Brandeis that has commercial potential. The program continues to have strong representation from biotech and sustainability inventions.

This year's Sprout teams tackle a range of scientific and social challenges with breakthrough science. They include:

"This year's Sprout cohort is really addressing big questions," says Rebecca Menapace, Associate Provost for Innovation. "They're also incredibly diverse in terms of their disciplinary training, which is a real strength."

The Sprout Awards are just one way the University supports entrepreneurship and translational research. Other programs include the Provost Research Award, the NSF I-Corps program , and Spark, for non-bench research. These programs represent a key part of Brandeis' commitment to nurturing a culture of entrepreneurship, creativity and risk-taking.

"The Sprout Awards are a great example of how the University creates an environment that supports and rewards interdisciplinary collaboration," says Menapace. "It's really gratifying to see the program continue to grow and thrive."

Meet the Sprout teams, and learn about their groundbreaking research:

Assessing emotion regulation ability through a portable mental health care system

health care system
PI: Jennifer Gutsell 
Tong Lin, Robert Sekuler, Yidong Qiu

Mood disorders and their treatments have been widely researched using neurophysiological methods such as (electroencephalography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). However, laboratory contexts do not reproduce everyday experiences. Laboratory research is also limited in sample diversity. For example, it is hard to recruit lower-income homebound older adults to the laboratories. 

Using neural signals from mobile EEG in combination with machine learning (such as EEG-Based Emotion Classification) to assess emotions can provide reliable data on mood and mood dysregulation, opening the way to effective remote therapy for mood disorders. This invention aims to implement a multisensory system in a mobile health care app that assesses and tracks users’ emotion regulation ability.

Optical-controlled reusable nano-porous material for water purification

water purification
PI: Grace Han
Xiang Li, Sungwon Cho

According to a 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) report, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water supply; 88% of 4 billion annual cases of diarrheal disease are attributed to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, while 1.8 million people die from diarrheal disease each year. In addition, treatment of oil spills and organic solvent pollution is an important issue for environmental science and technology. 

This project is a wastewater treatment device that can complement the conventional pollutant adsorption methods for industrial and household applications by using state-of-the-art nanoporous materials that are capable of adsorbing organic pollutants and releasing them upon light irradiation. It makes wastewater treatment easier, more flexible, and more cost-effective.

CapGun Genomics

Sterile Insect Technique
PI: Paul Garrity
Willem Laursen, Rachel Busby

Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a powerful, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly strategy for controlling and even eradicating invasive species, crop pests, and vectors of disease. In SIT, sterile males are released into the environment to seek out and mate with wild females of the same species. A major bottleneck in implementing SIT is the difficulty of generating large numbers of sterile males (currently done using the irradiation method) that are otherwise competitive for mating. Genetic engineering can specifically inactivate genes required for fertility, leaving animals otherwise healthy and competitive for mating. However, identifying and propagating mutant strains at scale remains challenging, particularly for sterile phenotypes. To address this limitation, this project is a simple generalizable strategy to create and identify sterile individuals at scale. The lab has already successfully created identifiable sterile male and female individuals (among fruit flies and mosquitos) capable of inducing mating refractoriness in wild counterparts and plans to develop the tool further.

Leveraging phosphatase synergy for tissue specific p38 inhibition

 inhibition and inactivation by tissue
PI: Niels Bradshaw
Emily Stadnicki, Prem Ramasamy

p38 MAP Kinase regulates inflammation and is a major target for drug development for conditions including autoimmune diseases, myocardial ischemia, and cancer. Existing inhibitors of p38 have failed clinically because of on-target toxicity, indicating that tissue- and process-specific p38 inhibitors are needed. Previous efforts have focused on identifying inhibitors that are specific to particular downstream targets of p38 or particular upstream activating mechanisms. Here, we take an alternative approach, leveraging the native inactivation mechanism of p38 by protein phosphatases. This project exploits synergy between pharmacological p38 inhibition and inactivation by tissue- or condition-specific phosphatases to identify beneficial p38 inhibitors to potentially treat a myriad of diseases.

Expansion of cytochrome p450 inhibitors

PI: Thomas Pochapsky
Nathan Wong, Liam Flynn, Eric Jiang

This invention adds to the catalog of highly specific inhibitors developed for Cytochromes P450s in the Popchapsky lab by pursuing new target CYPs that bear clinical importance. By synthesizing inhibitors to significant targets for certain cancer-related targets, the team aims to develop new drugs with reduced side effects.

Engagement Analytics for Online Classrooms

Online Classrooms
PIs: Benjamin Gomes-Casseres, Pito Salas
Klodeta Janaqi, Jason Fan, Daniel Hariyanto, Yousuf Khan, Nikhil Nama, Rezarta Myrtollari, Amanda Quaranto-Schulte

Teachers are perennially looking for ways to engage better with their students. We try different pedagogies learned by experimentation and from colleagues. But it’s hard to know what is working and not working. With online learning, this concern takes on a new dimension. There are new opportunities for distraction, and it is harder for teachers to read the room. Engagement is critical because it affects learning success, student retention and completion, and the satisfaction of students (and alums). Better measurement and analysis of engagement can provide early-warnings to advisors, help with student retention, and improve the quality of online courses. Our technology offers a new level of reliable, objective, and detailed information about student engagement and participation in online synchronous courses. This information helps teachers engage students more equitably and effectively, and gives students actionable feedback on their performance.


plastic waste recycling
PI: Douglas Theobald
Michael Sennett, Cris Sharma

Biotechnology companies have proposed to deal with plastic waste by using enzymes to degrade PET plastic into its constituent PET monomers, rather than mechanical recycling - into PET pellets or flakes. PET monomers carry a higher market value than pellets or flakes; unfortunately, current enzymes are unable to degrade solid, highly crystalline PET without expensive preprocessing,  accounting for half the cost of biochemical recycling. Nature has evolved enzymes to break down a wide variety of materials, including PET. While the enzyme is sufficient for nature, it is not suitable for industrial applications. Drawing inspiration from nature, this technology allows prediction of alternative enzymes to those found in nature, allowing for better breakdown of plastics in the waste stream.

Sprout participants receive training in entrepreneurship, connections to industry when appropriate, extensive support from the Office of Technology Licensing, including patent and commercialization help, and connections to other innovators across the Brandeis campus.