Two of Chicago’s most notable innovations of the year are rooted in research from Northwestern University, according to Chicago Innovation, which bestowed coveted honors on Illinois’ wastewater monitoring system and Epicore Biosystems at its the 21st Annual Chicago Innovation Awards on November 16.
One, a collaboration with municipalities to monitor wastewater for COVID-19, the other, a healthcare startup that created a wearable patch that monitors sweat to provide personalized hydration insights. , stress, and metabolic health, these high-impact inventions were among 20 winners, selected from 365 nominees, as Chicago’s Most Innovative Products and Services Across All Industries and for Organizations Large and Small.
“Northwestern is known for its strengths in collaborative research – especially at the intersection of disciplines, as is often the case within our university-wide research institutes and centers, such as the Center for water research,” said Vice President of Research Milan Mrksich. “This team-driven approach also leads to our successful innovative partnerships with other local and regional institutions, which positions our research teams to solve pressing societal challenges and do so with speed and agility.”
Illinois Wastewater Monitoring System
Winner of the high level award, tIllinois Wastewater Monitoring System is a creative COVID-19 monitoring solution born of an interagency research effort led by Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and Argonne National Laboratory.
In collaboration with the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Public Health and the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), researchers are testing and analyzing wastewater from sources around Chicago and Illinois for the presence of COVID- 19 and ultimately prevent the spread of disease. Northwestern is the data analysis lead for the program.
“Our main achievement has been to rapidly develop methods to measure SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and track the spread of COVID-19 variants,” said Professor Aaron Packman of Northwestern. “City and state public health departments have been involved in our research efforts from the start, and we have designed the entire program to provide actionable insights to protect public health in Chicago and throughout. Illinois.”
Packman, who led the Northwestern team, is the director of the Center for Water Research, a leader of the Smart Great Lakes Initiative and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering.
Northwestern’s baseline data analysis team for the Illinois Wastewater Monitoring System includes Katelyn Liesman and Niall Mangan, both professors of engineering science and applied mathematics; David Morton, Chair of Industrial Engineering and Management, and Professor; with a doctorate. students Maria warns and Guyi Chen.
The Chicago-area research team was one of the first in the country to reliably analyze raw sewage samples for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in 2021, providing real-time information to the Chicago and Illinois public health departments to help them. during the pandemic.
The team is also examining sewage samples for influenza A and B for the state.
Infected people shed the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through urine and feces – even when there are no symptoms – making sewers and sewage treatment facilities an ideal site to look for telltale signs. of illness.
In Chicago, DPI partnered with Current — another 2022 Chicago Innovation Award winner who received advisory support from Northwestern — to take samples from neighborhoods to get a more local picture of COVID trends. -19, and at O’Hare International Airport to track potential new variants from out of state.
Currently, the wastewater network spans more than 80 monitoring sites, covering more than two-thirds of Illinois’ population.
Epicore Biosystems is a healthcare startup that created the first wearable sweat-sensing platform to deliver personalized hydration, stress, and metabolism insights to athletes, industrial workers, and consumers. Epicore Biosystems’ Gx Sweat Patch and Gx App products, developed in partnership with Gatorade, received a Collaboration Award at the Chicago Innovation Awards.
The organization was created as a spin-off from Northwestern’s Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics and John Rogers Laboratory.
Rogers, Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Chair of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurological Surgery and director of the Querrey Simpson Institute, co-founded the company, which he now advises, with the administrator of the North West Kimberley K. Querrey (’22 , ’23 P).
Microfluidic technology captures tiny droplets of sweat directly from skin pores, which can then be analyzed in real time and used to monitor athlete performance by measuring the amount of fluid and electrolytes lost. In 2021, Epicore Biosystems and Gatorade launched the Gx Sweat Patch and Gx App, which are now available in retail stores and through e-commerce channels.
“It is an incredible honor to be selected for the Chicago Innovation Collaboration Award from such an illustrious group of nominations this year,” said CEO and co-founder of Epicore Biosystems, Dr. Roozbeh Ghaffari. “This recognition underscores the tireless efforts of our multidisciplinary team to take the Gx Sweat Patch and application from concept to full-scale launch and creation of a new product category.”
Ghaffari is director of translational research at Northwestern and associate professor of biomedical engineering at McCormick. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to soft bioelectronics, nanoscale systems and neuroscience.
Epicore Biosystems has established its wearables by partnering with leading Fortune 500 companies, the Department of Defense and research hospitals to generate personalized hydration and health management insights with its microfluidic wearables. .
In March 2022, Ghaffari and his team closed a $10 million Series A investment round to help accelerate the commercial scale-up of its microfluidic biosensors and data cloud platform. The industrial version of their sweat-sensing product, called Connected Hydration, is currently in pilot testing and tailored to enterprise customers to meet the hydration and nutrition needs of industrial workers in extreme working conditions.
Sweat is a rich source of largely untapped biomarker data, containing solutes, metabolites, hormones, proteins, micronutrients and exogenous agents – each of which can provide information to clinicians and be analyzed to bring data to consumers. From its origins as a McCormick spin-out to today, Epicore Biomarkers has continued to advance its wearable microfluidic technology and products in the ever-expanding digital health sector.
Editor’s note: Rogers and Ghaffari have financial interests in Epicore Biosystems. Northwestern University also has financial interests (equity, royalties) in Epicore Biosystems.