February 16, 2016    |   By Alex Likowski

Calling it the “backbone of the innovation economy,” University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD, extolled the many accomplishments of University of Maryland, MPowering the State (MPower) to a Maryland Senate subcommittee on Feb. 15.

MPower is a structured research and academic collaboration between UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).  Perman told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee’s Subcommittee on Education, Business and Administration that since MPower’s 2012 launch the two institutions have been to “take on the biggest challenges in human health and well-being” more boldly and aggressively.

One MPower initiative, the Joint Research and Innovation Seed Grant program, promotes cross-university research by providing startup funds to creative teams of investigators working across disciplinary boundaries and campuses.

“We just funded a team that’s developing an implantable device to determine how cancer cells respond to chemotherapy in real time,” Perman said, “so that doctors know right away whether the therapy is working and can adjust treatment immediately.”

Another example Perman offered is a team that is developing a rapid test to determine the chances that tumor cells in breast cancer patients will metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. “That’s the principal cause of breast cancer deaths,” he explained.

The fruits of research not only advance health care, but also provide fodder for Maryland’s innovation economy. Perman offered the senators some highlights of MPower’s results to date: 1,400 invention disclosures, 200 technology licenses, and the launch of 40 new startup technology companies.

Perman was joined by UMCP President Wallace D. Loh, PhD, JD, who chalked up much of MPower’s success to the ease with which the two leaders work together. “It’s all about relationships,” Loh said. “Jay and I get along very well…we’re natural collaborators.”

Senator Andrew Serafini of Washington County commended Perman and Loh for their efforts and asked what help the legislature might provide to attract more research and even high tech manufacturing to Maryland.

“You have to create what’s called an innovation ecosystem,” explained Loh. In order to achieve the level of success of California’s Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle, infrastructure is needed, he argued. “It’s not just the facilities for the research,” he said. “You have to have places for the people who work there to live. You have to have quality of life, amenities. You have to build an entire ecosystem.”

Creating and maintaining a highly skilled workforce is another goal of MPower. One example Perman cited is the UM Scholars program, in which math, science, and engineering students from College Park spend summers working with UMB physicians on projects that advance disease diagnosis and treatment.

“Meanwhile, UMB’s students are travelling to College Park to work with professors on applying systems engineering to solve the most persistent problems in health care delivery and efficiency,” Perman said. “This is how you keep the best and brightest students in the state – how you keep them contributing to our economic strength. You give them incredible opportunities right here in Maryland, so that this is where they stay.”