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Innovation Works Supports DU Professor’s Leap into Entrepreneurship

A professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne University has received $25,000 from Innovation Works' university technology commercialization program to develop a spin-off around a compound that glows when it detects lead.

Dr. Partha Basu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, plans to launch a spin-off company, refine the product and market it to other investors through the program supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development.

"This funding is extremely important for our applied research, which can often not be supported through traditional sources," said Dr. Alan W. Seadler, associate academic vice president for research and technology. "It is a great opportunity for Duquesne faculty to further refine their technologies and encourage startup companies in Pittsburgh as one additional way to broaden our impact through creating new jobs in the region."

Basu, a newcomer to the idea of scholars as entrepreneurs and a "die-hard academic," has worked to uncover knowledge for the sake of providing building blocks for a greater understanding of how the world works.

Basic science exploration-seeking the component of an enzyme-resulted in Basu's lab developing a compound extremely sensitive to lead. The detection of lead as a health hazard currently requires time-consuming and expensive laboratory tests. Basu's compound is able to quantify the amount of lead present in paint, water and other materials -even in the presence of other elements that might mask lead detection by other methods-by shining light through it. Fluorescent molecules make lead identifiable and deliver numeric quantities in parts per billion, a detection method more sensitive than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits.

Initially, Basu hadn't considered commercializing this product. "This was a basic scientific discovery that came about from curiosity," Basu said, who worked with Duquesne's Office of Research and Small Business Development Center. "I'm a scientist; I look at how things work and why things work. This molecule that we made, we said, 'Wow, it should bind lead!' so it's not that we were looking at making a company. In this case, the end product would be extremely useful to protecting the health of many people. So that is now the driving force."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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