Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

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WARF announces 2020 WARF Innovation Award winners

$10,000 prizes for advances in immune-oncology and cell-derived brain & spinal cord models

Jeanan Yasiri Moe
Director of Strategic Communications
[email protected] | (608) 960-9892

MADISON, Wis. – Selected from more than 400 innovation disclosures, two University of Wisconsin-Madison teams working at the frontiers of cancer immunotherapy and bioengineering have taken top honors from WARF.

The 2020 WARF Innovation Award winners are: Jenny Gumperz and Dana Baiu (medical microbiology & immunology) for their work, Killer Combination: Multicell Conjugates for Activating Antigen-Specific T Cell Responses. By combining two kinds of cells found in the body, their technology could open up a potentially transformative new approach to treating cancer, one that is faster and more specific than current methods.

The other winning team is Randolph Ashton (biomedical engineering), Gavin Knight, Benjamin Knudsen, Carlos Marti-Figueroa and Nisha Iyer. Their work, Superior Neural Tissue Models for Disease Modeling, Drug Development and More, involves stem cell-derived models of human tissue. This technology provides a critical step toward bioengineering brain and spinal cord organoids (simplified organs) with applications such as toxicology screening.

An independent panel of judges selected the winners from a field of six finalists drawn from more than 400 invention disclosures submitted to WARF over the past 12 months. The winning teams each receive an award of $10,000, with the funds going to the UW–Madison inventors named on the breakthroughs.

Erik Iverson, CEO of WARF, said, “Every disclosure shared with WARF is considered for our annual Innovation Awards. Beyond the six finalists, these awards are truly a celebration of all UW–Madison creators who have shown the world that, despite the disruption and loss caused by COVID-19, our campus continues to seek solutions to the boldest technological challenges of our time, from health to clean energy.”

The other finalists include:

  • Megan McClean (biomedical engineering) and Bhuvana Krishnaswamy (electrical & computer engineering) for Next-Generation Biosensors – their work bridging synthetic biology and electronic communication could yield new biosensors with real-time applications from healthcare diagnostics to environmental testing.
  • Cary Forest (physics), Jay Anderson, John Wallace, Robert Harvey and Yuri Petrov for Cutting-Edge Nuclear Fusion Technology – their system for generating fusion neutrons could be used to produce medical imaging isotopes, remediate nuclear waste and make power.
  • David Plante (psychiatry) and Reid Alisch (neurological surgery) for First Molecular Sleep Test Based on Epigenetic Discovery – in collaboration with a company partner, their saliva-based test can help identify and treat sleep disorders in patients.
  • Bu Wang (civil & environmental engineering) and Raghavendra Ragipani for Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration Using Alkaline Industrial Wastes – inspired by climate change, their green process utilizes common industrial wastes to capture carbon dioxide.


About WARF

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) helps steward the cycle of research, discovery, commercialization and investment for the University of Wisconsin–Madison and provides annual support to the university to advance research and innovation.  Founded in 1925 as an independent, nonprofit foundation, WARF manages more than 2,000 patents and an investment portfolio as it funds university research, obtains patents for campus discoveries and licenses inventions to industry. For more information, visit warf.org and view WARF’s Cycle of Innovation.