New Technology Designed to Reduce Mortality Rates in Cancer Patients

Ph.D. students Leila Daneshmandi and Armin Tahmasbi Rad, both from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, have developed a technology that takes a patient’s tumor cells and grows them outside of the body to test different cancer treatments. (Evan Olsen Photography)
Ph.D. students Leila Daneshmandi and Armin Tahmasbi Rad, both from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, have developed a technology that takes a patient’s tumor cells and grows them outside of the body to test different cancer treatments. (Evan Olsen Photography)

A pair of Ph.D. students at the University of Connecticut are developing a new technology to improve the efficiency of cancer treatment. They hope their innovation could someday significantly reduce mortality rates in cancer patients.

Armin Tahmasbi Rad and Leila Daneshmandi, both from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, have developed Encapsulate, an automated tumor-on-a-chip system that takes a patient’s tumor cells and grows them outside of the body to test different cancer treatments.

We want to ensure each cancer patient gets the most efficient treatment from the very beginning. — Leila Daneshmandi

This technology could potentially greatly reduce the trial-and-error aspect of cancer treatment that is exhausting, expensive, and potentially fatal for the patient.

“There are many FDA-approved drugs for each type of cancer. The difficulty is in choosing the most efficient one. It might take multiple rounds of chemotherapy to figure out which drug is working best,” Daneshmandi says. “This process of determining which drug a patient responds to best, is lengthy and is one of the major reasons why many lives are lost. This is where we are trying to come in. We want to ensure each cancer patient gets the most efficient treatment from the very beginning.”

While Rad and Daneshmandi came to UConn to pursue scholarly goals, they say participating in one of UConn’s entrepreneurial programs, Accelerate UConn, is helping fulfill entrepreneurial aspirations too.

“Accelerate UConn can serve as a starting point for anyone who thinks they have a technology that has commercial potential,” says Daneshmandi. “The mentors and the program itself have provided us with invaluable advice and guidance for developing our technology into a marketable product.”

Accelerate UConn, the University’s National Science Foundation I-Corps site, was launched in May 2015. It is jointly operated by UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI).

The only site of its kind in Connecticut, Accelerate UConn provides a framework for entrepreneurial faculty, staff, and students to assess the market potential of early-stage technologies developed in their labs. Along with early customer contact, the program also provides rigorous NSF-endorsed entrepreneurial training; $3,000 in seed funding to assess market potential; and connections with knowledgeable business mentors to help researchers navigate the specific industry they hope to enter.

“UConn students and faculty develop innovative technologies every day, but to help patients and our economy, we need to support their commercialization so they can one day reach beyond the lab,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health. “The Accelerate UConn program provides our world-class student and faculty researchers with entrepreneurial skills and a support system to transform ideas into products and services that solve real-world problems.”

Rad credits Accelerate UConn as the springboard for Encapsulate’s development, which is currently headed toward starting initial clinical trials using UConn Health patients.

The developers also participated in the CCEI Summer Fellowship this past summer. The program helped them define their initial business plan and develop step-by-step goals to expand the company.

Rad and Daneshmandi continue to gain momentum for their potentially game-changing technology. Their project was recently awarded the Third Bridge grant, and they were recipients of the CTNext EIA Award and were selected for the CTNext Mentor Network Program. They are currently in the process of joining UConn’s Technology Incubation Program at UConn Health to begin their clinical trials.

“Accelerate UConn is a springboard into the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the University and in the state,” says CCEI’s Jen Murphy, manager for CCEI programs, including Accelerate UConn. “The Encapsulate team highlights how UConn’s varied entrepreneurship and innovation programs work together to support companies like Encapsulate that have the potential to impact so many lives.”

To learn more about Accelerate UConn and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, visit https://ccei.uconn.edu/.