Jackson — Five years ago, when David Dzielak took over the role as liaison between researchers and commercialization efforts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC), he could count on one hand the number of invention disclosures reported during the institution’s 50-year existence.
Now Dzielak, associate vice chancellor for strategic research alliances at UMC, is working on more than 30 invention disclosures, several of which hold great market potential. Under his direction, UMC’s research budget has quadrupled, he has developed and implemented a faculty incentive plan and created the non-profit Research Development Foundation, and has spearheaded lobbying efforts that has resulted in more than $40 million in federal appropriations for infrastructure development.
The Mississippi Business Journal asked Dzielak, a Syracuse, N.Y., native who has been involved with UMC since earning a doctorate degree from the school in 1982 — he was named Most Outstanding Professor in 1995 — about the research being conducted at UMC, the status of commercialization efforts and his unique approach to strategic research alliances.
Mississippi Business Journal: Can you share with the Mississippi business community a broad perspective on the research being conducted at UMC?
David Dzielak: We have a strong tradition of cardiovascular research at the medical center and that tradition continues today. Dr. James Hardy attempted the first heart transplant in the world at UMC. Dr. Arthur Guyton began a research program investigating the circulatory system and how blood pressure was controlled. He and his colleagues employed mathematical equations and early computer models of the circulatory system to investigate the problem, an approach that became known as integrative physiology. This approach is based on asking a very simple but elegant question: what is the contribution of each of the multiple organ systems in the body to the overall regulation of blood pressure?
What they discovered was that the kidney was the ultimate long-term controller of blood pressure. All medications on the market today for the treatment of high blood pressure affect kidney function in some manner. This has been a tremendous contribution to physiology and medicine.
The tradition that Dr. Guyton started continues today. Researchers at the medical center are using this integrated approach to study the effect of obesity on the cardiovascular system, the condition of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, blood vessel growth and gender differences in blood pressure control.
We are the home of the largest clinical study of the natural history of cardiovascular disease in the African-American population, the Jackson Heart Study.
We also have research programs focused on psychiatric neuroscience, addictive disorders, immunology and several aspects of cancer. We are really growing and expanding our research programs. Over the last five years, we have quadrupled our research and sponsored projects budget.
MBJ: You have made a effort to keep licensing and manufacturing for UMC medical technology in the state. Please share with us recent developments, and explain why it’s important to you to keep the work in Mississippi?
DD: One of the things that I have always wanted to focus on was to use our developing technology as an engine of economic development. Of course, this is not always possible. It depends on the invention or technology. But when it can be used in this way, I like to take full advantage of it. For example, we had an individual that invented a medical device called a mobile medical gas stand. This allows medical gases used in anesthesia and respiratory therapy to be delivered to the bedside in a variety of situations where they are not currently available.
We could have sought out a partner outside the state to manufacture, market and distribute this device. But this wouldn’t create jobs or contribute to the economy of our state. So we specifically sought a partner within the state to do this. We found one in Applied Geo Technologies located in Philadelphia. By partnering with them, we are contributing to the economy of the state, creating jobs and income.
MBJ: Which invention disclosures look most promising?
DD: That is a very difficult question to answer because on some days they all look good and other days maybe not. Besides the mobile medical gas stand, there are some with real potential. At least I think so. One that is especially promising has to do with using saliva as a diagnostic tool. It may be possible to one day monitor the effectiveness of a treatment for breast cancer by simply taking a sample of saliva. This could also be developed not only as a way to monitor treatment and or cancer recurrence but could also be used as a diagnostic indicator as well. I can imagine this as screening device for cancer as well.
MBJ: What’s on the horizon?
DD: You really never know until someone walks into the office with a record of invention or gives you a call and tells you about their idea and how they developed it. I think there may be a few more medical devices out there, some novel anticancer drugs as well as some novel drugs that affect the muscles located in blood vessels.
MBJ: What are your plans to grow research at the medical center?
DD: Most people in a particular scientific field like to have the opportunity to work with others in their field, to have a chance to collaborate and share resources and ideas. I think we have a very good nucleus of investigators and scientists in several fields. What we need is modern space to attract these new people who want to work with the folks we already have in place.
We are going to break ground on a new research building this spring. This is going to be a great recruiting tool for us to attract these scientists. As they come to work with our people, they will bring additional funding and their own laboratory personnel. As this continues, you create a critical mass of investigators, more talent, more ideas, more inventions, more technology to transfer, a greater chance to create economic development. This is where we are heading.
MBJ: What needs to happen for commercialization of some of these promising services and products to be embraced nationwide?
DD: I think the most important thing is exposure. Once a device or a concept gets out there and it has a distinct advantage, other people will see the advantage and want to use it. We will need a couple of successes before people from around the country begin to look at us, by that I mean the whole state of Mississippi as a place for technology development and commercialization. Maybe in 10 to 15 years, we will be the new San Diego, Austin or Boston.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.