UNCW Researcher Receives $1.47M for Toxin Test Creation

Thursday, April 20, 2017

SeaTox Research Inc., in collaboration with UNCW, has received a $1.47 million Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to further develop toxin tests for seafood.

“This funding will provide significant advancement in our abilities to detect neurotoxins from harmful algal blooms that make people sick when they eat contaminated fish and shellfish,” said Jennifer McCall, a lecturer in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology at UNCW and CEO of SeaTox Research Inc.

The tests are designed to be used by research groups and regulatory agencies to monitor toxin content in fisheries to protect the public from the detrimental effects of neurotoxins, McCall explained. They are based on fluorescent detectors, which represent an innovation over traditional tests based on radioactive labels or antibodies.

The Phase II STTR grant brings total funding for the project to approximately $1.75 million, including Phase I funding from the NIEHS and support from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Phase I grants establish the technical merit, feasibility and commercial potential of a particular research area. Phase II grants continue the research and development efforts initiated in Phase I.

SeaTox Research Inc. is a biotechnology company located in UNCW’s CREST Research Park. It is involved in assay development and pharmaceutical R&D (Research and Development) utilizing materials originating from the marine environment. Assay development involves inventing and designing scientific tests, modifying the tests to optimize efficiency, and then validating those tests with a large pool of data to determine effectiveness.

SeaTox is the first CREST-affiliated company to receive either a Phase I or a Phase II STTR grant, said Ron Vetter, associate provost of research and dean of the graduate school.

“Although there are lots of activities at CREST that involve research, service and teaching, there are fewer activities focused on entrepreneurship,” he said. “SeaTox was one of the first tenants in the MARBIONC building, a facility that was designed and built for just this kind of translational science activity.”

The university’s Strategic Plan includes innovation as one of its core values – a commitment to continuous improvement and breakthrough advances to ensure distinctiveness.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the NIEHS of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Award Number R42ES023724. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Venita Jenkins