Big ideas can also be small
09.08.2011 Big ideas can also be small
BioRegio STERN Management GmbH honoured the winners of the regional “Science2Start” ideas competition on July 21. The three victors from Stuttgart, Tübingen and Reutlingen celebrated their success together with over 300 guests at a joint summer reception organised by BioRegio STERN Management GmbH, PUSH! (the partner network for new companies founded by academics at Stuttgart universities), the Society for the Promotion of Biotechnology and Medical Technology and the University of Hohenheim.
The main prize in this year's ideas competition was awarded to Prof. Hans-Peter Zenner, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Tübingen. His "round window implant with optic section" is the prototype for an implantable hearing aid that requires a significantly lower power supply than conventional devices. A panel of judges for the third Science2Start competition comprising scientists, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs was impressed by this start-up project because, as well as the scientific expertise it offers, it also meets the conditions for economic success. After all, 40 per cent of people aged over 65 in Europe are hard of hearing, equating to more than fifty million patients in total. Until now, active middle ear implants requiring a relatively large amount of space for the power supply have had to be implanted in a complex operation in immediate proximity to sensitive structures such as the optic nerve. In a project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Prof. Zenner and his team have developed an implantable hearing aid that consists solely of a photovoltaic receiver circuit connected to an actuator linked directly to the inner ear. This transducer is smaller than a grain of rice and transmits sound information to the inner ear.
The prizes, this year worth a total of 4,500 euros, were once again sponsored by Reutlingen-based Völker & Partner, a firm of lawyers, tax consultants and auditors. Guest of honour Erwin Staudt, former Chairman of the Management Board of IBM Deutschland GmbH and for many years president of VfB Stuttgart football club, presented the certificates together with Dr. Klaus Eichenberg, Managing Director of BioRegio STERN.
Second place was awarded to Dr. Christian Böhm from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart for his "integrated drop sensor technology". Using microfluidics, i.e. manipulation of minute quantities of liquid in microstructures, he has developed integrated microdrops that can be used both as reaction chambers and sensors. A change in drop size acts as a new marker for the activity of cells or biocatalysts in the drops. The drops can be identified and the active components isolated thanks to a straightforward filtering process. This development enables complete miniaturisation of a range of testing methods.
Third place was awarded to Julia Schütte and Simon Werner from the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen in Reutlingen. In their "HepaChip" start-up project, they developed an innovative, organ-like 3D cell culture test based on primary human liver cells. While these frequently lose their liver functions in conventional cell culture tests, the HepaChip enables retention of the natural functions. This organ-like system makes it possible to detect the liver's responses to individual active substances. Using the HepaChip system, potential active substances can be analysed for liver toxicity before the cost-intensive clinical phase. Financial losses and in particular damage resulting from unexpected side effects can be minimised. A significant proportion of drugs withdrawn from the market after being approved exhibit side effects involving liver damage.
Dr. Klaus Eichenberg, Managing Director of BioRegio STERN Management GmbH and one of the hosts, is delighted that, despite the rain, the numerous entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, consultants and financiers at the summer reception in the historic setting of Hohenheim Castle used the occasion to pursue an intensive exchange of ideas and international networking: "As guests included cooperation partners from the FASILIS EU project, contacts were made this year well beyond the regional boundaries."