Monthly Archives: December 2016

UNLV to capitalize on patent technologies

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Office of Economic Development is working to finally capitalize on years of research and development programs that have resulted in successful patents.

Most longtime Las Vegas residents may not realize that UNLV even engages in research activities.

“You could have told me they owned a unicorn and it would be just as believable.” said Bob Glennon, a 40-year resident of Las Vegas and managing partner of Las Vegas Sign and Flag.

The fact is that since 2009, UNLV’s staff and students have applied for and been awarded 179 patents, according to a report compiled by Zachary Miles, attorney and associate vice president for economic development at UNLV.

“Prior to 2009, nothing existed in the way of records for tracking patents owned by the university,” said Miles, who came on board in December 2013.

After organizing his department, Miles, who spent 10 years at the University of Utah in the technology commercialization office, began contacting with his network of individuals and organizations to track down current and future users of UNLV’s patent portfolio.

“We only have two or three technologies that are generating funding right now,” Miles said.

Miles connected with UNLV’s International Gaming Institute to compile a list of low-hanging fruit, such as software programs that were developed by the university and are being used in gaming applications. The next step was to sign agreements to collect revenue on UNLV’s intellectual property. In fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, 2014, revenue from that low-hanging fruit amounted to $32,281.

Up until 2013, the university received zero dollars for its intellectual properties, but FY 2014 saw revenues climb to nearly $58,000. The revenue more than doubled to just more than $126,000 for FY 2015 and then doubled again in FY 2016 to over $252,000, according to a UNLV report.

This year, UNLV received $53.3 million in funding from federal grants, federal pass-through accounts, the state of Nevada, private industries and foundations and local businesses. This funding allowed for the continuation or startup of 389 research projects.

The UNLV International Gaming Institute averages about 15 disclosures each year. A disclosure is a document that announces a potential discovery or modification of an existing product or process that could result in the filing of a new patent.

“Of those, at least half, if not a little more, we are filing for a provisional patent,” Miles said. “Quite a few are being looked at by either gaming companies or resorts as possible licensing opportunities.”

The Institutes’s Center for Gaming Innovation enables students to create intellectual property, including casino games and innovations that have generated more than 30 patent applications to date. These patents and licensing agreements make up the majority of the $252,000 in revenue. The products are just starting to hit casino floors, according to a UNLV report.

But gaming is not the only research area benefiting from grants.

Recently, UNLV filed a patent on behalf of Zhiyong Wang, associate professor at the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. Wang and his son developed a process that can increase the strength of a diamond by 5 percent.

Even though a diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance found on Earth, it falls into the “crystalline solid” category, possessing microscopic defects, fault lines, dislocations, occlusions and inclusions that are points of weakness.

The discovery made by Wang and his son is that when diamonds are immersed into a low-temperature — below 212 degrees Fahrenheit — plasma environment on a vibrating surface, the plasma fills the voids and chemically bonds with the carbon elements of the diamond, thereby increasing its crushing strength index by at least 5 percent.

While the strength of the crystalline structure of a diamond is of no importance to the jewelry industry, the majority of diamonds mined are used for industrial purposes. Small diamond particles are embedded in saw blades, drill bits and grinding wheels. The strength of these diamond particles determines how many times a bit, blade or wheel can be used before its abrasiveness wears out.

Miles is working with his contacts to sell this patent process to manufacturers of diamond-embedded cutting tools to monetize this intellectual property. Miles also has reached out to UNLV’s Center for Entrepreneurship to build a business plan around the process and promote it to industry.

UNLV, like most universities, encourages research and development but retains the rights to intellectual property. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 permits a university, small business or nonprofit to pursue patent ownership of an invention, even though the research may have been funded using government money. The act also specifies a reasonable split of the proceeds with the researchers.

UNLV is very generous to its research staff, allocating 60 percent to inventors; the norm at most public universities is 30 to 40 percent. The university department with the patent receives 25 percent of the revenue, while the remaining 15 percent is retained for administrative purposes, Miles said.

While UNLV has not had any truly life-changing patents to date, research is ongoing in two different areas that could put the university on the map.

One research team just developed a compound to prevent the Clostridium difficile bacterium from germinating and spreading. Often referred to as C. difficile or C. diff, this bacterium can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon and most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in longterm care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. Because of testing requirements by the Food and Drug Administration, Miles expects it to take about eight years before it becomes available for use.

Faculty and students of the College of Engineering teamed with Lockheed Martin to test materials and protocols for their Orion project. The Orion spacecraft is being designed for long-duration, human-rated deep-space exploration and is expected to take astronauts to Mars and return them safely back to Earth.

“This partnership will provide unique opportunities for our students to enhance their knowledge and research capabilities in exciting new areas and help accelerate the efforts of Lockheed Martin research activities and the nation’s ambitious space program,” said Rama Venkat, dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.

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UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine offers clinical experience

A recent American Dental Education Association study showed the average dental school student graduates with more than $247,000 in student debt. That figure has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2010.

Part of the reason for the dental student’s high debt is that she must complete a four-year science degree before entering the four-year dental program. The student must also purchase several thousands dollars worth of special training aids, equipment and books.

With the cost of dental school so high, students are taking a very close look at which school they want to attend. And, the competition for acceptance is fierce. UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine has more than 1,000 applicants that compete for one of the 75 to 80 student positions that are available each year, according to Dr. Philip Devore, DDS, the school’s associate professor.

Kristine San Diego, who came to UNLV from her home in Hawaii, is a third-year student at the School of Dental Medicine.

“I chose UNLV because of the early hands-on clinical experience that UNLV offers.”

In addition, after her first year at UNLV, San Diego was able to claim residency and lower her tuition from $89,987 to $54,677 per year, according to the school’s tuition website, www.unlv.edu/dental/tuition. UNLV’s Dental School tuitions are about 9.5 percent less than the average for all dental schools, according to StartClass.com, a website that tracks U.S. professional schools.

At UNLV, students begin working in the clinic environment during their second year, and by their third year are performing most of the technical procedures. Devore said most dental schools have students entering the clinic stage of their education in the later part of their third year or into their fourth year. In addition, UNLV does not break its program down into specialties, so the students gain experience on a wider variety of procedures.

This year, StartClass.com ranked UNLV School of Dental Medicine 48 out of the top 65 university schools, not including private schools. UNLV School of Dental Medicine is one of the newest on the list, having graduated its first class in 2006.

In December, the school will receive its latest piece of equipment — an inter oral scanner, which is priced at nearly $12,000. This is a sophisticated optical scanner that takes digital images and converts them to a CAD file that is read by different types of machines. One of the uses will be in conjunction with a milling machine that can build a customized crown for a patient’s tooth. Another future use will be to connect the scanner to a 3-D printer that could build dental bridges and false teeth.

Devore moved from California, where he had a 17-year dental practice, to Las Vegas in 1997. He started a local private practice in 2002. He said he is well aware of the advancements made in modern dentistry. “I’m not doing the same thing that I did 35 years ago when I graduated from dental school; it’s not the same. I have to stay current with all of the literature, materials, and methods that we have today.”

The school, at 1700 W. Charleston Blvd. in the UMC medical corridor, has 165 dental treatment rooms along with emergency care, oral pathology, and oral surgery units. The clinic is open to the public and hosts more than 60,000 patient visits each year through its academic, community outreach and Faculty Dental Practice clinic, according to Kevin Dunegan, director of communications for the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, the university’s School of Allied Health Services and its School of Nursing.

One of the unique things about the UNLV School of Dental Medicine is that because of the clinic program, the school is more than 85 percent self-sufficient based upon the fees paid by the patients and their insurance, according to Devore. The school charges a flat fee for services, which are not income-qualified.

According to Devore, the clinic is equipped to accept absolutely everybody that enters the doors, regardless of the severity of their dental problems.

“If a patient is not suitable for a student due to the complexity of their dental needs — too many crowns or bridges or a complex medical issue — they are referred to the General Practice Residency Program,” he said.

In this program, graduate dentists come for additional training in general dentistry, orthodontics or pediatrics.

“If a case is extremely complicated, the patient is referred to the faculty practice, which encompasses all of the dental specialties.”

The school has an operating room on campus and staff privileges at University Medical Center Hospital.

“What I really enjoy about practicing in this environment is that it allows me to offer what I think is the very best to our patients, both in the faculty practice and in the student clinic with the students,” Devore said.

Because the School of Dental Medicine does not have an overhead that a private practice does, it is allowed to practice what Devore called “ideal dentistry.” As such, the staff and students make recommendations to the patients that they consider to be ideal, then depending on the patient’s needs and desires they will tailor the treatment.

When patients go to the clinic, they are put through a battery of preliminary examinations during the record-taking process before any work is performed. As a result, a complete mold of their teeth along with x-rays and photographs are available for the students to look at and analyze with their instructors. Based on their analysis, along with the instructor’s examination, a course of treatment is decided and proposed to the patient.

“You can train most anyone to do the technical side,” Devore said. “However, it is the critical-thinking skills that are crucial to becoming an effective dental practitioner, and that is what we try to teach.”

“We try to give evidence-based criteria to all of our clinical decision makings. We don’t do stuff just because we think it is a good idea. We recommend treatment based on the literature, the curriculum that we have and evidence-based standards that are well-documented,” Devore said.

In addition to the technical and critical thinking, the dental school also has a unique two-semester practice administration course, which all students must pass in order to graduate. The course was developed by Devore in 2005 and is based on his prior years of experience as a consultant to dental practices around the world. In this course, Devore teaches the students how to manage an office, marketing, patient management and how to communicate with patients by explaining their dental needs and the procedures in layman terms.

“Creating value and urgency so that a patient does not put off something that in the future can cause bigger problems both medically and financially is the goal,” Devore said.

San Diego, whose mother is a dentist with a successful practice in Hawaii, worked with her mother on the administrative side before entering dental school.

“After graduation, I would like to work with some other dentists to see how they do things before going back to Hawaii and working with my mother,” she said.

Like San Diego, many of the graduating dentists are weighing their work options. Devore said the average income for a dentist just starting out is about $120,000 a year. The school debt might cause a graduate to take a job with a large dental corporation and a guaranteed salary rather than open an independent practice and incurring the risk associated with entrepreneurship. Regardless of their choice, finding employment should not be a problem. Currently, there is a shortage of 7,300 dentists in the United States, according to the American Dental Association.

Part of the dentist shortage can be solved by importing dentists from other countries. UNLV has a proposal to the Board of Regents to begin offering a foreign dentist curriculum where an accredited dentist from a foreign country can study for two years and graduate with a degree that will enable them to practice in the U.S.