Video Dating App Claims Grand Prize in Merage School Competition

Noveil seeks to eliminate the superficial nature of most popular dating apps.

Using common dating apps can often feel shallow and risky, but a business created by a UC Irvine student seeks to eliminate those hurdles and provide an application that fosters lasting relationships.

That business, Noveil, recently won a $20,000 grand prize and $10,000 Consumer Services first prize in the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition, which is hosted annually by the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business to encourage entrepreneurship and support student startups in the Orange County area.

Michael Allotey, a 2021 UC Irvine graduate who major majored in computer science and minored in innovation and entrepreneurship, started Noveil started Noveil specifically for Generation Z college students.

“We understood the problem because we experienced it ourselves,” Allotey said of the Noveil team. “We noticed there noticed there was a hookup culture that you can’t get around in online dating. There was a superficiality. People only judged each other on a picture and then a few sentences in a bio. Also, women don’t really feel that comfortable. To us, that’s crazy.”

Noveil seeks to solve these problems by removing photos and a bio and adding a video dating platform so people can really get to know each other before going on a date.

When somebody signs up for Noveil, they will be asked three questions to determine their preferences and whether they want to start dating. From that point, the app’s algorithm uses machine learning to find a good match for each person. Initially, these matches are based on preferences, but after going on a few dates, the app will base its matches on who somebody has chosen to date and who they have disliked in the past.

“It’s similar to how Netflix recommends movies,” Allotey said. When two people are matched, they are immediately placed in a three-minute video call. The app provides two icebreaker questions to stimulate the conversation.

Allotey started Noveil in November and enrolled in the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition a few months later. He said he had been interested in competing in the event for a while.

This year’s event gave nearly $100,000 in prize money to a variety of businesses dealing with sustainability, medical technology and diet. Over the course of seven months, 88 teams were whittled down to 10 during this year’s competition. These finalists competed in an event run similarly to an episode of “Shark Tank” where contestants pitch their products and services to a panel of judges made up of Orange County entrepreneurs and investors.

Aside from Noveil, several other businesses received cash prizes for a variety of categories, including business products and services, consumer products, consumer services, life sciences and social enterprise. First place winners were given $10,000 and second place received $5,000. A grand prize runner up was also chosen and awarded $5,000.

Grand Prize Runner Up

Enjovu Paper was chosen as the runner up for its proposal to use regenerated fibers from elephant feces to create sustainable paper products. The company argued that this will lessen the environmental impact of paper production and raise awareness for endangered elephants, which are threatened by poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction.

Life Sciences

The first prize was claimed by forMED Technologies for its mission to provide patients with an at-home eye pressure monitoring system to prevent blindness and make sure that patients are receiving the correct amount of medication. Sayenza Biosciences received the second place prize for developing the first fully automated device that processes fat removed during liposuction. This is crucial because the cells in liposuction fat have a high amount of adult stem cells, which can be used for regenerative medicine.

Business Products and Services

Nutripair was awarded the first place prize for its product pairing people with the most nutritious and beneficial foods for their dietary preferences. The company also helps restaurants raise their revenue through helping manage the menu and analyzing allergens and nutrition. EmpowerMi came in second place for its mental wellness platform that provides a more holistic approach to mental health maintenance.

Consumer Products

HAI came in first place for offering sustainable and fashionable jewelry. GaleGauge took the second place prize for its golf training tool utilizing data on wind, temperature and distance to help people adjust their swing.

Social Enterprise

Blue Aqua Food Tech received the first place award for using insects to create an alternative protein for fish to feed on to help solve the global crisis of fishmeal shortages. Enjovu Paper also was awarded second place honors in this category. Com

Consumer Services

Noveil also received the first place prize in this category, while SnapHealth came in second place for its mobile app that helps patients take back control of their sensitive health data to improve the overall experience of healthcare.

For more information about The Paul Merage School of Business and our programs, please visit merage.uci.edu.

Click here to read the full Orange County Business Journal article.

NIH announces prize winners of maternal health diagnostics challenge

The National Institutes of Health today announced the winners of its NIH Technology Accelerator Challenge (NTAC) for Maternal Health, a prize competition for developers of diagnostic technologies to help improve maternal health around the world. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are a major global health problem. Tragically, these complications result in the deaths of more than 800 women and 7,000 newborns each day. Low-cost diagnostics that operate at the point-of-care and can detect and differentiate among common conditions associated with pregnancy are needed to help reduce the high rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in low-resource settings.

The winning technologies share a total of $1 million in prizes for the successful design and development of diagnostic tests and platform technologies to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality. The prize competition is managed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and with support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health.

“This competition prioritized technologies that could have life-saving impact on women, families, and communities, and provide health care workers with technologies they can readily integrate into practice with their patients,” said NIBIB Director Bruce J. Tromberg, Ph.D. “We congratulate the teams who entered this field of competition with their innovative device designs and platform technologies, as well as articulating a pathway for translation and use of their innovations for global health settings.”

Priority maternal health conditions addressed in NTAC for Maternal Health include infection, hypertensive disease, hemorrhage and placental issues. Hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia and bacterial infections account for more than 50% of global maternal mortality, with 94% of these fatalities occurring in low- and lower middle-income countries.

The NTAC for Maternal Health drew over 40 entries, five of which were selected to receive cash prizes, while an additional four entries received honorable mention awards.  Each of the cash prize winners will be invited to present a summary of their diagnostic technologies at a livestreamed winner’s showcase from 2-3:30 p.m. on Thurs., August 4, 2022. Preregister here up to an hour before the event.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will separately review winners and those receiving an honorable mention and consider them for follow-on support that may include grant funding and/or in-kind support in the form of consultations and partnerships for clinical data collection, software development, scale-up and manufacturing. Read more about the NTAC for Maternal Health program.

The winning technologies are as follows:

First place and a $500,000 prize. Dr. Bethany Hedt-Gauthier, Harvard University, Boston. mHealth tools for community health worker-led home-based diagnosis of surgical site infections and anemia post-cesarian delivery. A stand-alone, integrated mobile health tool for community health workers to monitor postpartum recovery by women following a cesarian delivery. The tool enables home-based diagnosis of surgical-site infections and anemia. The team designed the technology to be used in rural Rwanda; its use could be transferred to low infrastructure and resource settings in other countries.

Second place and a $300,000 prize. University of California, Irvine. Maternal obstetrics monitoring sock (MOMS). The hemodynamic monitoring sock is a low-cost, portable, point-of-care system to monitor pregnant women for preeclampsia, anemia, and hemorrhage. It continuously tracks blood pressure and heart rate and monitors blood flow; it can be used during and after delivery in low-resource settings.

Third place tie and a $75,000 prize. Softsonics, LLC, San Diego. A wearable ultrasound/electrochemical sensor for maternal health surveillance. A conformal, stretchable and integrated wearable sensor providing dynamic and comprehensive monitoring of pregnancy complications, including sepsis, preeclampsia, and placental disfunction. The sensor can monitor blood pressure, heart rate and lactate levels and can facilitate Doppler ultrasound imaging. The technology does not require a trained operator, enabling its use in low-resource settings.

Third place tie and a $75,000 prize. Raydiant Oximetry, Inc., San Francisco. LUMERAH™ near infrared spectroscopy platform to diagnose maternal hemorrhage and fetal distress during pregnancy. The LUMERAH™ system is a non-invasive platform technology that uses near-infrared spectroscopy to perform non-invasive pulse oximetry. The device is being developed for the diagnosis of fetal hypoxic distress during labor and delivery and maternal hemorrhage in the postpartum period. These conditions impact mothers across the developed and developing world.

Semi-finalist and a $50,000 prize. Stanford University, Stanford, California. Point-of-care diagnostics tool for preeclampsia and anemia in pregnancy. A fully integrated molecular diagnostic system on a miniaturized, disposable semiconductor chip to enable simple, low-cost, and early detection of preeclampsia and maternal anemia at the point-of-care. The technology will identify high-risk pregnancies and enable their close monitoring and early intervention and be, suitable for use in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries.

Honorable mention. VoluMetrix, LLC, Nashvllle. Non-invasive venous waveform analysis (NIVA) for maternal health. An accurate, easy to use, non-invasive wrist sensor to monitor key physiological variables by capturing low frequency venous waveforms. It is being developed to provide hemorrhage monitoring, early detection of pre-eclampsia and monitoring for acute respiratory distress. Ease-of-use and portability enable a healthcare provider to monitor a patient in the hospital or at home during the peripartum period and during delivery.

Honorable mention. Dr. Mathias Wipf, MOMM Diagnostics, Basel, Switzerland. Rapid Preeclampsia Diagnostic Test (RaPiD). A cost-effective method to rule-out or diagnose preeclampsia at the point-of-care via a simple-to-use blood test. This proof-of-concept prototype for a rapid diagnostic test for preeclampsia determines the concentration ratio between two preeclampsia biomarkers from a single drop of blood. It offers a low-cost solution for immediate and continuous patient monitoring during pregnancy check-ups.

Honorable mention. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Modifying maternal recumbent position to prevent preeclampsia and placental disease. The automated supine pressor test (Auto-SPT) is an adaptation of the supine pressor test used to predict the risk for preeclampsia in pregnant women based on elevation in their diastolic blood pressure when shifting from their left side to their back. Auto-SPT uses a standard brachial blood pressure cuff, smartphone, and position sensor to guide patients through the test. Auto-SPT is primarily designed to be used at home for preeclampsia risk prediction or therapeutic positioning to reduce placental disease.

Honorable mention. Washington University in St. Louis. Maternal aRMOR: Preventing global maternal mortality and morbidity with a wearable device. A low-cost wearable device that provides real-time data to inform early clinical decision making for hemorrhage and preeclampsia in high- and low-resource settings. The Maternal aRMOR uses a low-powered laser and light sensor to monitor physiologic changes that can be used to diagnose hemorrhage and preeclampsia. The device, which can be worn throughout pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery, interfaces with a mobile phone or tablet, providing actionable results in minutes.

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About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB): NIBIB’s mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating engineering and physical science with biology and medicine to advance our understanding of disease and its prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website.

About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD leads research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all. For more information, visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov.

About the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH): ORWH serves as the focal point for women’s health research at NIH. It is the first Public Health Service office dedicated specifically to promoting women’s health research within, as well as beyond, the NIH scientific community. The office also fosters the recruitment, retention, reentry, and advancement of women in biomedical careers. For more information about ORWH, visit www.nih.gov/women

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

Click here to read the full press release on the NIBIB website.

UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic and Philips Image-Guided Therapy Strategically Partner with UCI Beall Applied Innovation to Accelerate Cardiovascular Research

Photo by: Laurel Hungerford

Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of mortality in the world responsible for up to one-third of all deaths globally in recent years. What is even more concerning is the steady rise in the prevalence of heart and vascular disorders, such that the impact on the public health system and the associated cost burden is becoming harder to sustain as the population ages. However, with the need to find new cost-effective treatments at an all-time high, access to and maintenance of a high-quality infrastructure dedicated to cardiovascular research is difficult to come by for university investigators. Likewise, the lead time to specialized testing and advanced disease models for medical device manufacturers is equally challenging.  Often, this delays the time to market and increases research and development expenditures for new device products and solutions in the interventional vascular space.

To solve this barrier for both university investigators studying heart disease and the life science engineers looking to translate benchtop research to the patient bedside, Dr. David Chalyan, director of clinical development at Philips Image-Guided Therapy Devices in San Diego, and Dr. Thomas Milner, director of UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, envision a state-of-the art interventional facility.  This facility provides robust access to university and industry scientists who are developing new cures for cardiovascular disease. To create the appropriate regulatory framework for this Public Private Partnership (PPP), Milner and Chalyan collaborated with another Southern California native, David Gibbons, director of industry sponsored research at UCI Beall Applied Innovation, for his guidance on the government and private sector agreement.

Remarkable progress has followed, resulting in the acquisition of a significant grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the successful execution of advanced medical laser and Intravascular Imaging (IVI) studies. These studies offer novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for vascular disease patients. As co-investigators on this research, Chalyan and Milner kicked off a translational research seminar bringing world-renowned cardiologists, radiologists, and vascular surgeons to UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic for lectures and hands-on medical training sessions.

“Within the first month of the study, the laboratory has already met its annual goals, thanks to Joel Haaf and Brandon Scanlon from the Philips Heart Rhythm Management division,” said Chalyan. “We have also received cross-industry and cross-department interest from Dr. Naomi Chesler, the director at Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, and Dr. Mahmood Razavi, the director of Clinical Trials and Research Centers at St. Joseph Vascular Institute.”

With strong support from UCI and Philips leadership, Chalyan, Milner and Gibbons are actively working on the next phase of the long-term partnership.

“The upcoming benchmark includes bringing the latest Philips fully-integrated Azurion bi-plane with IntraSight7 interventional platform and GLP-compliant operation to further expand on the capabilities and throughput of vascular studies at the Institute,” said Dr. Milner. “We remain committed to the overarching goal of improving medical device safety and accelerating innovation for cardiovascular disease patients in Orange County, California.”

2022 Stella Zhang New Venture Competition Winners

The Merage School’s Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is pleased to present the winners of this year’s Stella Zhang New Venture Competition, outscoring almost 100 concepts that were initially submitted back in February.

The top ten teams conducted a LIVE “Shark Tank” style pitch to our panel of four esteemed Orange County investors and entrepreneur ecosystem influencers in the NVC Grand Finale. Our judge panelists included Isabelle Bart, Rodrigo Mahs, Lori Mazan, Debbie Lin – who contributed excellent insights and thoughtful questions to our teams.

After a passionate deliberation, the judges selected the top finalist to receive the $20,000 grand prize: Noveil.

The hard work of these teams, openness to coaching and feedback, and innovative ideas truly speak to the amazing depth and breadth of talent found among the University of California, Irvine students.

Please join us in congratulating the following teams:

GRAND PRIZE WINNER – $20,000: Noveil

AUDIENCE FAVORITE – $5,000: Enjovu Paper

BUSINESS PRODUCTS AND SERVICES:

1st place: $10,000
Nutripair: Everyday technology that pairs people with the best foods for their dietary preferences while helping restaurants’ raise revenues by 10% with the use of menu management and allergen/nutrition analyses.

2nd place: $5,000
EmpowerMi: EmpowerMi is a technology-driven mental wellness platform that empowers users with a holistic approach to mental wellbeing.

CONSUMER PRODUCTS:

1st place: $10,000
HAI: HAI offers sustainable and fashionable jewelry for consumers who are looking for attractive and high-quality products that match their passion for eco-friendly lifestyle.

2nd place: $5,000
GaleGauge: GaleGauge is a golf training tool that uses live wind, temperature, and distance data to calculate how you need to adjust your swing to the elements to sink the perfect shot.

CONSUMER SERVICES:

1st place: $10,000
Noveil: Noveil is the first dating platform for Gen Z college students with no profiles and no swipes, and we increase the number of matches and in-person dates a user receives.

2nd place: $5,000
SnapHealth: Our mission is to improve the healthcare experience for patients by empowering them to take back control over their health record data with a simple mobile application that “just works.”

LIFE SCIENCES:

1st place: $10,000        
forMED Technologies: forMED offers patients and doctors an at-home, non-contact IOP monitoring system that measures eye pressure daily to ensure medication effectiveness and prevent blindness.

2nd place: $5,000
Sayenza Biosciences: Sayenza Biosciences is a medical device company developing the industry’s first fully-automated platform for the processing of liposuction fat, the largest source of adult stem cells in the body, for limitless point-of-care aesthetic and regenerative medicine applications.

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE:

1st place: $10,000    
Blue Aqua Food Tech: Blue Aqua Food Tech, is developing an alternative protein for fish feed to help solve the global issue of fishmeal shortages and food waste mismanagement with the use of insects.

2nd place: $5,000
Enjovu Paper: Enjovu Paper is a sustainable paper-making brand creating products with regenerated fibers from elephant feces and aiming to lessen the environmental impact of paper production and raise awareness for the endangered wild elephants worldwide.

Click here to visit the UCI Paul Merage School of Business website.

Choi receives DoD HBCU/MI award to establish UCI Core Optical Laboratory Resource

Advanced instrumentation and new dedicated space to train the next generation of scientists and engineers

Dr. Bernard Choi, Associate Director of UCI Beckman Laser Institute, received a 2022 Department of Defense (DoD) Research and Education Program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions (HBCU/MI) award.  The award supports the establishment of the UCI Core Optical Laboratory Resource (COLR), which will feature a dedicated space and advanced instrumentation, enhancing the Institute’s capabilities to attract and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Through UCI COLR, students will expand their skills by developing basic and applied optical systems and observing, measuring and interpreting fundamental optical phenomena.

Optical technologies enable minimally- and non-invasive functional imaging, multiscale diagnostics, image-guided therapy and laser surgery. Since its founding in 1986, UCI Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic has served as a premier interdisciplinary research institute for optics and photonics in biology and medicine. Research teams at the Institute develop and apply new optical technologies and methodologies to address biological and biomedical problems.

“Hands-on training in optics and photonics is a significant bottleneck in the education of students and researchers, stated Choi. “The UCI COLR will enable us to provide a robust and broad education in fundamental optical principles.”

New instrumentation in UCI COLR will augment Institute capabilities, as researchers pioneer advanced optical technologies for trauma and critical care.  New lab-based coursework in multiple departments will provide trainees with opportunities to develop optical system design and data acquisition skills. In addition, general optics and photonics courses and specialty courses in imaging approaches will rely heavily on UCI COLR technologies and equipment. Topics of interest include laser fundamentals, imaging system design and understanding health disparities associated with optical measurements.

Institute teams will develop formal and informal summer workshops and boot camps.  UCI COLR will impact approximately 30 students annually through the Institute’s Access to Careers in Engineering and Sciences (ACES) program and other UCI multi-year partnerships with HBCU and local minority service community college programs.  During these visits, UCI COLR will strengthen the hands-on training and engagement of the summer students in optics and photonics.

“I look forward to working with the 15 outstanding UCI faculty who comprise the COLR management team, to enhance the training of our undergraduate and graduate students,” stated Choi.  “The experiential learning opportunities that will result from the UCI COLR will give our trainees a stronger foundation in optics and photonics, and we believe that these experiences will increase the enthusiasm of our students and stimulate their interest in pursuing careers in biophotonics and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] in general.”

Christian Couzet awarded BrightFocus Foundation fellowship award to study neurovascular changes and Alzheimer’s disease

Engineering Students Celebrate Major Wins in 2022 New Venture Competition

By Rachel Karas, UCI Samueli School of Engineering

UCI’s Merage School of Business Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted its “Shark Tank”-style grand finale of the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition on June 3. A total of $100,000 was distributed to winning teams across five different categories; engineering students were members of five different winning teams. The panel of four esteemed Orange County investors and entrepreneur ecosystem influencers contributed insights and thoughtful questions to the teams.

Here are the winning teams that included Anteater Engineers among their members:

Noveil earned the grand prize of $20,000, along with first place in the Consumer Services category. Noveil is the first dating platform for Gen Z college students with no profiles and no swipes, and it increases the number of matches and in-person dates a user receives.

forMED Technologies took home first place ($10,000) in the Life Sciences category. forMED offers patients and doctors an at-home, noncontact intraocular pressure monitoring system that measures eye pressure daily to ensure medication effectiveness and prevent blindness.

Sayenza Biosciences won second place in the Life Sciences category ($5,000). Sayenza Biosciences is a medical device company developing the industry’s first fully automated platform for processing liposuction fat, the largest source of adult stem cells in the body, for point-of-care aesthetic and regenerative medicine applications.

GaleGauge was awarded second place in the Consumer Products category ($5,000). GaleGauge is a golf training tool that uses live wind, temperature and distance data to calculate how players need to adjust their swings to the elements for sinking the perfect shot.

SnapHealth placed second in the Consumer Services category ($5,000). SnapHealth’s mission is to improve the healthcare experience for patients by empowering them to take control over their health record data with a simple mobile application.

The Stella Zhang New Venture Competition is open to all UCI students, staff members and researchers as well as community members interested in the opportunity to form a team, launch a startup and potentially fund a business idea.

Click here to read the full article on the UCI Samueli School of Engineering website.

F.D.A. Approves Alopecia Drug That Restores Hair Growth in Many Patients

The drug, made by Eli Lilly, is already used for rheumatoid arthritis, and could be followed by two more drugs from other companies.

By Gina Kolata, New York Times

The disease can vary in severity, but for some, it can be life-altering — a total loss of body hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows, even nose hair and hair in the ears. And, until recently, for those with alopecia areata, there was no treatment to make the hair grow back.

But on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved baricitinib, a drug made by Eli Lilly that regrows hair by blocking the immune system from attacking hair follicles. Two other companies, Pfizer and Concert Pharmaceuticals, are close behind with similar drugs, known as JAK inhibitors. The drugs are already on the market for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. F.D.A. approval is important for insurance coverage of these expensive drugs, which have a list price of nearly $2,500 a month.

The Lilly drug was studied in two trials, sponsored by the company and published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, involving 1,200 patients with severe alopecia areata. Nearly 40 percent who took the drug had complete or near-complete hair regrowth after 36 weeks. After a year, nearly half of the patients had their hair back.

Dr. Brett King, a dermatology professor at Yale University, was the principal investigator for the two Lilly trials and is also leading trials sponsored by the other companies. He said he was optimistic that the success rate for the drugs would get better. Manufacturers may be able to improve the JAK inhibitors for alopecia areata. And when all three companies have drugs on the market, patients who do not respond to one company’s drug might respond to one of the others.

Patients in the Lilly study experienced relatively mild side effects, including a small increased risk of acne, urinary tract infections and other infections. Those side effects were easily treatable or improved without treatment.

The Lilly trial results “are impressive,” wrote Dr. Andrew Messenger of the University of Sheffield and Matthew Harries of the University of Manchester in an accompanying editorial. They added that the findings “represent the first published phase 3 trials of any treatment for this condition.”

More than 300,000 Americans live with severe alopecia areata, according to the F.D.A. The impact of the disease is hard to overstate, Dr. King said.

For most people with alopecia areata, the disease manifests as one or a few small bald patches on the head. But those with severe cases have something much worse. They may notice small bald spots on their heads one day. Three months or even three weeks later, they have no hair on their bodies.

Dr. King is widely credited by colleagues for piquing interest in the use of JAK inhibitors to treat alopecia areata. He said it all began when he noticed three abstracts presented at medical meetings in 2012 and 2013. The studies, led by Dr. Raphael Clynes and Dr. Angela Christiano of Columbia University, involved mice but indicated that JAK inhibitors might reverse alopecia areata.

Shortly afterward, a 25-year-old man named Kyle came to see Dr. King for the treatment of psoriasis. He had almost no hair and his head and body had big, red scaly psoriasis plaques.

“I looked at him and said, ‘You have alopecia areata,’” Dr. King said.

Kyle began noticing he had severe hair loss when he was at a dance in high school, wearing a hat. He went to the bathroom, took off his hat and, to his horror, found a large amount of hair in the hat.

“It’s a Twilight Zone episode,” Dr. King said.

He looked at Kyle and said, “If you want to try something wild that has not been done before, there is a medicine approved for rheumatoid arthritis and being developed for psoriasis. There is some suggestion in mice that it might work.”

Kyle agreed to take tofacitinib, a JAK inhibitor made by Pfizer that is similar to the Lilly drug. Eight months later, he had his hair back.

After Dr. King published a report on Kyle, other dermatologists began trying JAK inhibitors.

Dr. Maryanne Makredes Senna, the director of the Hair Loss Center of Excellence at Beth Israel Lahey Health in Massachusetts, was among them.

She would prevail upon insurers to cover the drugs, and sometimes she would succeed.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see the amazing impact,” said Dr. Senna, who has received consulting fees from Eli Lilly and Pfizer. “They come in with no hair, totally withdrawing from life. Their eyes are cast down. They come back and say, ‘I have my life back. I have my self back.’”

Dr. Natasha Atanaskova Mesinkovska, the chief scientific officer at the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and a dermatology professor at the University of California, Irvine, helped the pharmaceutical companies find patients for their trials. She, too, has been impressed by the results in those who have responded to the drugs.

Severe hair loss not only “robs a person of their identity” but is “a medical issue,” she said, adding that when people lose hair in their nose and ears, it affects allergies and hearing.

Christian Daniels, 27, a data center technician who lives in Peoria, Ill., said hair loss also affected his eyes. Without eyelashes, dust would get into his eyes and irritate them so much he began putting Vaseline on his eyelids.

Mr. Daniels’s hair started falling out when he was 25. Within a month, all of his body hair was gone.

Covid-19 was “a blessing in disguise,” he said, because he could work at home.

“I felt like my life had been put on hold,” he said. “I felt like the only thing that mattered was how to get my hair back.”

He found the Lilly trials by “Googling and Googling.”

Now, he said, “it’s almost like it never happened,” although he still has flashbacks sometimes when he looks in a mirror and remembers his hairless self.

Dr. Brittany Craiglow, a dermatologist in private practice in Fairfield, Conn., who is married to Dr. King, said severe alopecia areata was especially difficult for children.

One patient, Cassidy Mackwell of Canton, Mass., lost her hair when she was 8. When adults saw her, they assumed she had cancer.

“People would come up to Cassidy when we were in a restaurant having dinner,” said her mother, Melissa Mackwell. Some would even try to pay for their meals. “They would hug her and say, ‘I’m so sorry. Keep fighting.’”

One of Dr. Craiglow’s patients, Brooke Nelson, who lives in Belleville, N.J., lost all of her long blond hair when she was in first grade. Brooke was so embarrassed by her hair loss that her mother, Danielle Nelson, home-schooled her.

She took Brooke to medical center after medical center, to doctor after doctor, but to no avail. “I would have given up my house, given up everything if that meant giving Brooke back her hair,” Ms. Nelson said.

Ms. Nelson was ready to take Brooke to China for stem cell therapy when she found Dr. Craiglow, who gave Brooke a JAK inhibitor. Her hair grew back.

“It was a miracle,” Ms. Nelson said.

Click here to read the full New York Times article.

Melanoma researcher covers all the bases

UCI Health dermatologist Anand Ganesan created new compounds that slow skin cancer growth

By Matt Coker

Dr. Anand Ganesan probably won’t be hanging from a ceiling `a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, but the UCI Health dermatologist and School of Medicine professor of dermatology and biological sciences does compare part of what he does to a plot device in the 1996 action thriller.

“You know where the guy opens the switch box, there are all these wires coming down, and he’s trying to figure out which wire to cut to stop something bad from happening? That’s kind of what we’re trying to do: Cut the right wire to short- circuit cancer,” says the co-director of the Biotechnology, Imaging & Drug Discovery program at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Ganesan says being a cancer researcher pays dividends when it comes to his own practice as a dermatologist. Unlike other health systems in Orange County, UCI Health has a roster of physicians who double as world-class researchers in their specialties.

“Most doctors don’t know how a drug is developed and what goes into the thought process of doing that,” Ganesan says. “Knowing that really helps guide my practice a lot more.”

Not to mix Tom Cruise movies, but the researcher/dermatologist is a top gun when it comes to embodying the CFCCC mission to facilitate and promote interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cancer research across UCI; disseminate state-of-the-art cancer knowledge to caregivers, patients and families, and the public; train the next diverse generation of cancer researchers and care providers; and deliver the highest quality multidisciplinary clinical care to cancer patients.

This would not be possible, Ganesan says, without grants from the National Institutes for Health and UCI’s Anti-Cancer Challenge that have helped pave the way for his decade-plus research into identifying genes that are activated in cancer and developing ways to prevent them from sending the signals that spur the disease.

The Anti-Cancer Challenge, a ride-run-walk event that raises awareness and funds for pilot studies and clinical trials that support research at the CFCCC, provided Ganesan’s team with about $40,000 in seed money. That led to the development of a new drug to treat melanoma ­– which may have broad applications for other tumor types – that received substantially more funding from the NIH.

A $10 million, five-year National Cancer Institute grant recognizes the university’s deep expertise in biology, mathematics, chemistry and other research areas and led to the creation of the UCI Center for Cancer Systems Biology. The university is among just 13 research institutions nationwide that are part of the NCI’s Cancer Systems Biology Consortium.

“Our mission is to translate the findings of our research into treatments that can benefit patients, driven by a strong commitment to scientific discovery and clinical innovation,” Dr. Richard A. Van Etten, the CFCCC’s director, has said. “Institutions lacking their own research base can follow and adopt advances developed at NCI centers like ours, but they cannot lead in the same way as comprehensive cancer centers that integrate research with clinical care.”

For an idea of how this has played out for Ganesan and his team, their latest paper in Cell Reports, “New molecule holds promise of therapies for cancer and rare diseases,” builds on their 2017 Cell Reports paper, “Key mutation in melanoma suppresses the immune system,” which builds on their 2012 Cancer Research paper, “Researchers find cause of chemotherapy resistance in melanoma.”

Melanoma gets top billing because it is what Ganesan and his fellow dermatologists in sunny Southern California deal with most frequently.

“Fortunately, 90 percent of melanoma is curable by surgery,” he says. “Almost two-thirds of the other 10 percent we see is what we call Stage III disease, which means the tumor has moved to the lymph node but hasn’t moved to the rest of the body. The remainder of it is where the tumor has moved to the rest of the body.”

Ganesan and his fellow researchers are trying to develop new therapies for most patients with Stage III tumors. “The strategy scientists have taken initially was to say, ‘OK, these tumors have the same mutations as the metastatic tumors, so the immune system is potentially activated in the same way,’ ” he explains. “But mutation-directed therapies and immunotherapies for patients with metastatic tumors have side effects. Can we think of a way that we can target these tumors in a more direct fashion, targeting their ability to move, that’s more selective than for those that are starting to metastasize?”

Step one was establishing a genetic strategy, which was the point of the 2012 paper that identified a class of genes called CDC42 that are important in chemotherapy resistance and the function of some genes in tumor progression.

“These genes are like switches,” says Ganesan, returning to the Mission Impossible scenario. “We use the genetic approach to find out which wire is important or which signaling pathway is important. The next logical question is how do we cut it? How do we target the right switch? Switches go on and off, on and off, on and off, all the time. But they only do something that induces cancer when they’re on. So, how can we develop a drug to target these switches when they are on?”

It was a question perplexing Ganesan when he happened to be in Italy and met Marco De Vivo, group leader of the Molecular Modeling & Drug Discovery Lab at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa.

“I told him about what I was working on,” Ganesan recalls, “and I said, ‘The switch is important, but how do I target it? How do I make a cancer drug out of it?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I think I could do that.’ I said, ‘Oh, let’s work together.’ So, then we started working together.”

They eventually identified the lead molecule to target the switch, based on computational models, and developed a drug that could bind to it to prevent it from sending a cancer signal. According to Ganesan, the research by the IIT and his own Ganesan Lab offers hope to Stage III patients who would have previously “fallen through the cracks.”

“We’ve made a new chemical that’s never been made before,” he says. “We show how the drug works. And we show that the drug slows cancer growth. But there’s still a journey from having a drug that does that in the models we have and having a drug that we give to people. That’s the journey we’re on right now.”

To take the leap from academic research to clinical therapy, Ganesan, De Vivo and two other partners started Alyra Therapeutics to develop the medication further. The startup is currently in fundraising mode.

To further explain how Ganesan’s research helps him as a practitioner, we shift from the movie theater to the pool hall.

“Great pool players line up three shots ahead of the shot they are playing,” he says. “Like the ball is here and they want to stop it in the right place so they can play the next ball and stop that shot so they can play the next one. That’s the way I think about drugs for patients. You are trying to figure out what will the patient respond to best – that’s your first shot – and when that person responds or does not respond, what do you do next? That’s your next shot, and you have all your shots lined up before you take the first one.”

As a drug developer, he goes through the same process.

“You hit the ball into the first one, and it bounces off where you want to line up the second shot,” he explains. “How are you going to get there? That’s kind of the way I think about things. It’s not just for melanoma or diagnostics of patients but also for other diseases that I treat. Conducting research has really changed the way that I think and care for patients.”

Coming up with therapies to make melanoma and the other diseases he treats less prevalent “is kind of the idea” of his research and practice, he notes. Because patients treated for melanoma often see it return at some point, the direction he is now taking is finding ways to keep it from developing in the first place. One way his team is doing that is by refining theranostics, in which imaging guides diagnostics.

“We are trying to apply theranostics to melanoma,” says Ganesan. “Immunotherapy is the gold standard of treatment. What that does is make the immune system fight the tumor and the tumor goes away. And when it does, it’s amazing because it could be a lifelong cure.”

Why Pigment Doesn’t Always Return in Vitiligo

New research reveals the unique cell-to-cell communication networks that can perpetuate inflammation and prevent re-pigmentation in people with vitiligo disease.

The study appears in the journal JCI Insight.

“In this study, we couple advanced imaging with transcriptomics and bioinformatics to discover the cell-to-cell communication networks between keratinocytes, immune cells and melanocytes that drive inflammation and prevent re-pigmentation caused by vitiligo,” says Anand K. Ganesan, professor of dermatology and vice chair for dermatology research at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.

“This discovery will enable us to determine why white patches continue to persist in stable vitiligo disease, which could lead to new therapeutics to treat this disease.”

Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease that is characterized by the progressive destruction of melanocytes, which are mature melanin-forming cells in the skin, by immune cells called autoreactive CD8+ T cells that result in patches of white depigmented skin. This disease has shown to cause significant psychological distress among patients. Melanocyte destruction in active vitiligo is mediated by CD8+ T cells, but until now, why the white patches in stable disease persist was poorly understood.

“Until now, the interaction between immune cells, melanocytes, and keratinocytes in situ in human skin has been difficult to study due to the lack of proper tools,” says Jessica Shiu, assistant professor of dermatology and one of the first authors of the study.

“By combining non-invasive multiphoton microscopy (MPM) imaging and single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), we identified distinct subpopulations of keratinocytes in lesional skin of stable vitiligo patients along with the changes in cellular compositions in stable vitiligo skin that drive disease persistence. In patients that responded to punch grafting treatment, these changes were reversed, highlighting their role in disease persistence.”

MPM is a noninvasive imaging technique capable of providing images with sub-micron resolution and label-free molecular contrast which can be used to characterize keratinocyte metabolism in human skin. Keratinocytes are epidermal cells which produce keratin.

Most studies on vitiligo have focused on active disease, while stable vitiligo remains somewhat of a mystery. Studies are currently underway to investigate when metabolically altered keratinocytes first appear and how they may affect the re-pigmentation process in patients undergoing treatment.

The findings of this study raise the possibility of targeting keratinocyte metabolism in vitiligo treatment. Further studies are needed to improve the understanding of how keratinocyte states affect the tissue microenvironment and contribute to disease pathogenesis.

This work was possible, in part, through access to the Genomics High Throughput Facility Shared Resource of the Cancer Center Support Grant at the University of California, Irvine and three National Institutes of Health shared instrumentation.

Funding came from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Simons Foundation, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin diseases, and the National Cancer Institute.

Click here to read the full article on Futurity.org.