Thomas O’Sullivan, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, is the first-place winner of the 2023 1st Source Bank Commercialization Award. Tengfei Luo, the Dorini Family Professor for Energy Studies, placed second. The first-place award carries a $25,000 cash prize, while the runner-up award is $10,000.
O’Sullivan co-founded NearWave, a non-invasive handheld medical device that helps physicians select the right therapy for breast cancer patients. The hand-held imaging device can tell in under a week if a treatment is working, rather than having patients wait six to 12 months and potentially suffering through toxic side effects. The NearWave device may also reduce the number of biopsies required for breast cancer by enabling imaging in OB-GYN and primary care offices.
The concept for NearWave started in a graduate class taught by O’Sullivan. He and co-founder Roy Stillwell worked on NearWave with the O’Sullivan Research Group in the Biomedical Photonics Laboratory at Notre Dame.
NearWave’s technology has shown promising results in the ability to differentiate benign from malignant tumors non-invasively with 90 percent specificity and sensitivity.
“I am humbled and honored to be counted among the current nominees and past recipients of this award,” said O’Sullivan. “I am also grateful for the incredible support and encouragement since my arrival at Notre Dame. Thank you to Notre Dame’s Electrical Engineering department and the College of Engineering for building us a lab that allowed us to do, for the first time, clinical studies of a Notre Dame-developed medical device on campus. Thanks also to the Harper Cancer Research Institute and the Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health for seeding core technologies in the NearWave scanner. Thanks also to the College of Science. In addition, Notre Dame and St. Joseph Health have been incredible partners that have allowed NearWave to safely perform our research.”
NearWave has raised $1.5 million in outside investment and has an open seed round with several investors. Currently, the device is available to researchers in oncology, women's health, traumatic brain injury research and optics-related groups.
Emerging from the Molecular/Nano-Scale Transport and Energy Research (MONSTER) Laboratory at Notre Dame, Luo’s technology led to the founding of Tessellated Inc., a polymer film company that uses a patented formula to produce some of the most robust polymer materials in the world. This versatile material offers a multitude of potential uses from ballistic armor and sport gears to thermal management. It can be incorporated into composite components for both aerospace and automotive sectors.
Tessellated’s formation was driven by Luo and his team’s identification of a market opportunity leveraging the novel properties of this material. The material is being explored for protecting satellites and spacecraft from space debris and the optimization of thermal regulation in energy systems, specifically within electric vehicles. Tessellated aspires to broaden its impact across various industries that can implement its polymer thin film technology.
Tessellated has received multiple STTR Phase I grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, the company secured a Phase II grant from the Army spanning two years. Tessellated has also secured investments from an Indiana-based venture capital firm.
“I am very privileged and grateful to be selected for such a prestigious award, let alone winning it!” said Luo. “It is great to see the transition from my fundamental research to a product that can potentially impact society.”
Established in 2008 with a $1 million gift from 1st Source Bank, the Commercialization Award is presented annually to faculty from Notre Dame or the Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend who have successfully transitioned their technologies from the lab to the marketplace.