In the News – 2009

Governor Lingle Names Innovation Award Winners

As published in 2009 April in Governor Linda Lingle’s Press Release:

HONOLULU – Governor Linda Lingle today named three recipients of the Governor’s Innovation Awards for their commitment to creative thinking and new ideas which result in better products, services and processes, while also improving Hawai‘i’s future.

“Through ‘disruptive ideas,’ as one of our award winners refers to innovation, this latest group of innovators is helping us all realize the importance of looking beyond what’s always been done, and striving for how we can do things better,” said Governor Lingle. “As these award winners demonstrate, innovation can be something as simple as using native plants to landscape our roadways, to more leading-edge development of new technologies that can restore people’s sight or generate valuable products from marine algae.”

The recipients of the Governor’s Innovation Award for February 2009 are as follows:

Innovation by an Individual: Hank Wuh

In 2003, Hank Wuh founded Cellular Bioengineering Inc. (CBI), a Hawai‘i-based developer of technologies with biomedical and biodefense applications. CBI searches for what Wuh calls “disruptive ideas” and “disruptive technologies” that will eventually overturn the status quo and change the future. Wuh’s company has the worldwide license for the development of a “bio-integrating polymer corneal” substitute called the EYEGENIX™ Artificial Cornea which aims to return the gift of sight to millions of people. Other products are a paint-and-peel gel that can enhance biohazard cleanup and a nanochip that can track pills to thwart counterfeited drugs. With a company motto of “Invent. Disrupt. Inspire.” Wuh and his team at CBI are ensuring that Hawai‘i remains at the forefront of innovative thinking.

Read the whole story here.

Act 221 Success Stories: Cellular Bioengineering

As published in 2009 April 8, Midweek.

Recently, Hank Wuh’s company, Cellular Bioengineering Inc., launched its latest product–a gel capable of cleaning up everything fro ma radioactive nuclear spill to ground-in dirt. Paint it on: peel it off the next day. Pretty much as simple as that.

And the worldwide market? Oh, about $200 million.

Already another of the company’s phenomenal products–an artificial cornea–is in human clinical trials. It has the potential to return sight to 10 million people around the world whose blindness is caused by corneal disease.

Cellular Bioengineering has grown quickly and supported local hires. Wuh’s own Hawaii roots and his schooling–partly at the University of Hawaii, along with Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and Stanford University–make it important to him to offer opportunities to young people from the Islands.

Intellectual property–in other words, new inventions–is the core of Wuh’s company, and in many ways the core of Hawaii’s ability to develop an economic sector around high technology.

That core has been supported by Act 221, which has been key to jump-starting research and intellectual property development in the Islands.

With 25 patents in his portfolio, Wuh is already impacting global markets, not just the Hawaii market. The inventions and products his company controls have the potential for upward growth nearly everywhere in the world with the possibility of billions of dollars of business. And all of it is the result of good ideas given good support.

Innovative Use of DeconGel as a Beryllium Decontamination Technique

As published in 2009 Fall Best Practices Newsletter by the Department of Fossil Energy

The Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE) Office of Environment, Security, Safety and Health (ESS&H) (FE-7) has sponsored the Excellence in ESS&H Awards since 1995. Over the years the Excellence Award has evolved along with FE’s mission, and continues to be one of the greatest honors FE has to bestow upon its dedicated employees both federal and contractor….At the culmination of a vigorous debate, the judges settled on two Best Practices: Innovative Use of DeconGel™ as a Beryllium Decontamination Technique…

…DeconGel™ is a nonhazardous epoxy material with a limited curing time. In most testing at the NETL-ALB site, only one application of DeconGel™ was needed, reducing worker exposure and generating no measurable airborne hazards. Additionally, studies have indicated that using DeconGel™ can generate a cost savings of up to 70 percent compared to traditional methods. Another advantage of using this gel is it reduces the volume of waste typically generated from traditional decontamination methods.

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Painting and Peeling Contaminants Away at EM Facilities

As published in 2009 November U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management  Update Newsletter

A gel that can be painted or sprayed on a wide range of surfaces and then peeled off after it dries—pulling radioactive and chemical contaminants with it—could be a huge help in completing many of the cleanup jobs on the Office of Environmental Management (EM)’s agenda.

That’s why EM’s Office of Deactivation and Decommissioning and Facility Engineering is now testing and evaluating a product called DeconGel™ made by Cellular Bioengineering Inc. (CBI) of Honolulu. Conventional methods of decontaminating the interior walls, floors and other surfaces of contaminated buildings often rely on liquid “detergents” or physical methods to remove the contamination. But these approaches may require scrubbing or wiping that can spread contamination over a larger area.

DeconGel™ can be cheaper to use than other decontamination methods because it can be applied faster and typically generates smaller volumes of waste. It also offers certain technical advantages. It can be applied to rough and smooth, painted and unpainted concrete surfaces as well as aluminum and steel. It fixes surface contaminants immediately and then penetrates into the pores and cracks and locks the embedded contamination into a polymer matrix as it dries.

When dry, the film resembles and has the consistency of a “thick Saran Wrap” says Andrew Szilagyi, EM’s Project Management for the development of new D&D technologies. “You peel it off and crumble it up like aluminum foil or Saran Wrap then put it in a bag or a drum and there you go.”

Depending on the contaminants involved, Szilagyi says it might be possible to dispose of the dried DeconGel™ through less stringent and less expensive disposal options than other cleanup methods would require. That could mean using an industrial landfill instead of a radiological disposal facility.  With more than 3,500 contaminated facilities, including nearly 1,000 buildings with radioactive contamination, EM has plenty of places to put DeconGel™ to work. EM field tested DeconGel™ in January and February of this year at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where paintable and sprayable versions were applied to the floor and walls in a hot cell area of Building 2026. The main contaminants of concern were americium and plutonium. Removal efficiencies ranged from a high of 90 percent to lower levels in areas previously treated with sealants or fixatives.

Paula Kirk of EM, who managed the field test at Oak Ridge, says the product has two distinct advantages over conventional methods of cleanup. “When DeconGel™ is applied, it strongly holds the airborned contaminants which become fixed under the gel. This is important when dealing with plutonium and other contaminants, as the radioactive particles can easily become airborned and can be spread by people walking across a floor.”

She also noted that “If a floor needs to be ‘scrabbled’ [by mechanically removing surface layers of concrete to eliminate contamination] one could be looking at a significantly larger secondary waste stream as opposed to the dried DeconGel™.”

DeconGel™ took a winding road to the gritty world of decontaminating concrete floors, says Michael Coy, CBI’s vice president for operations. Hank Wuh, a former orthopedic surgeon with what Coy describes as “an innate interest in problem solving,” founded the company in 2003 and then set about finding a new way to treat corneal dystrophy, a set of conditions in which cloudy material builds up in the cornea and clouds vision.

The conventional medical approach had been to use corneal transplants to treat the condition. But Wuh wanted to find a different approach for the many parts of the world resist transplants because of religious and cultural taboos against taking tissue from another person. So he set out down two roads—one was to find a way to grow new corneal cells from a small sample of cells taken from the patient’s own eye and the other was to create an artificial cornea from a polymeric hydrogel.

While testing polymers, one of the scientists on Wuh’s team discovered that the material they were working with might be able to remove radioactive isotopes from human skin.
After the company successfully tested the polymer’s radioactive removal properties on mice, it got a request from the Air Force, Coy recalls, to see if the polymer could be used to remove transuranic elements from the aluminum skin of an aircraft that had been contaminated.

It was while doing that testing, Coy says, that some of the polymer spilled on a laboratory floor. “We let it dry and we peeled it,” he says, “and there was this fairly white looking area in contrast to the surrounding floor. We said ‘what if we did this deliberately?’ and from that point on we started refining it.”

CBI, which has adopted the corporate motto of “Invent, Disrupt, Inspire” is still developing an artificial cornea. But DeconGel™, the product based on the accidental spill, is speeding ahead. CBI began selling a commercial version of DeconGel™ last year to nuclear power utilities, hospitals and research laboratories that generate or use radioactive materials.
Coy says CBI now has “40 plus customers” and is “at an advanced stage of startup” in its commercial business.

EM has provided CBI with grants of $1.47 million in Fiscal Year 2009 and $1.59 in Fiscal Year 2010 to support testing of DeconGel™ at contaminated facilities and help the company develop and improved version of the product. By the end of FY 2010, EM’s goal is to have a strong technical package—including case studies— in place to provide guidance on whether DeconGel™ is the right product for a particular cleanup need.

In addition to DeconGel’s™ use during deactivation and decommissioning of structures, Szilagyi hopes further testing may show the product can also be used by DOE’s research laboratories to clean up spills and treat contaminated tools and equipment. And, he says, it’s possible that use of this peelable gel might allow some contaminated buildings to be saved from demolition altogether and used for other purposes.

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DeconGel™ Honored as National Finalist for the Prestigious Christopher Columbus Homeland Security Award

As published in 2009 October press release by Linda Jameson

Cellular Bioengineering Inc. (CBI), a Hawaii-based technology accelerator, announced today that it was honored as one of three National Finalists for the Christopher Columbus Foundation Homeland Security Award for 2009. The presentation was made at a National Awards ceremony in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. This award is the result of a year long national competition to identify the individual citizen or company that is making “a measurable and constructive contribution related to basic and/or advanced research in the area of homeland security which will result in a significant and positive benefit to society.”

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent Federal government agency established to “encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind.” Governed by a Presidential appointed Board of Trustees, the Foundation seeks to nurture and recognize pioneering individuals and programs which reflect the visionary spirit and pioneering heritage of Christopher Columbus.

CBI was chosen to be a finalist for this prestigious award based on its invention and commercialization of DeconGel™, a product of its CBI Polymers Division. DeconGel™ is a polymeric hydrogel which is the state-of-the-art technology for the effective containment and decontamination of radiological waste and potential nuclear threats as well as chemical and other toxic wastes. Nuclear power plants and government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense are early customers and users of DeconGel™. Additional applications of DeconGel™ are being expanded for the decontamination of industrial and military grade hazardous chemicals and biological agents.

Kimberly Owens, the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Christopher Columbus Foundation, congratulated CBI for its development of DeconGel™. “This hydrogel is a powerful tool in the remediation of radioactive waste and nuclear threats, and future uses are sure to be discovered,” she said. Owens went on to assert that the Board had a very difficult decision to make in choosing between the three National Finalists.

DeconGel™ was funded by the Hawaii Technology Development Venture (HTDV) / Office of Naval Research (ONR). Additional R&D funding was secured through the USAF Force Protection Battlelab, the National Defense Center of Excellence for Research in Ocean Sciences (CEROS) under its contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Department of Energy.

CBI is a venture accelerator focused on disruptive biomedical and biodefense innovations. Founded in 2003 in Honolulu, Hawaii, CBI works with world-class research institutions to transform novel ideas into commercial products, especially in the area of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) detection and remediation.

“We are extremely honored to be named as a National Finalist for this prestigious award,” said Larry Stack, Chief Operating Officer of CBI Polymers. “Our goal as a company is to accelerate the commercialization of innovative technologies that will have a significant impact upon the security and well being of our nation. This award exemplifies CBI’s motto: Invent. Disrupt. Inspire.”

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