Four members of the UNM faculty have presented their ideas to the New Mexico Angels, a group of local venture capitalists. The New Mexico Angels listen to faculty proposals throughout the year and frequently offer help to researchers either in human resources such as CEO’s or business managers for startup companies or funding to help them prepare to bring a product to market. Their latest meeting on UNM’s South Campus was an opportunity to hear new ideas for commercializing UNM research.

NorBIRT Therepeutic for Chronic Neuropathic Pain

Erin Milligan, Dept. of Neurosciences

Jeffrey Norenberg, College of Pharmacy

Erin Milligan thinks a lot about how to relieve chronic nerve pain. Her research at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center has been an exploration of ways to relieve the kind of pain that drives Americans to the doctor’s office 40 million times a year. It’s amazing to consider the ways the human nervous system can be damaged – everything from cancer to diabetes to traumatic injury can bring unrelenting, unending pain.  When the pain lasts more than six months, it is labeled chronic and the prospect for relief is not good.                                

Milligan says most chronic pain is treated with opioids like morphine. That frequently works in the short term, but require increasingly higher doses as a person develops tolerance. There are ugly side effects and the possibility for addiction always looms. There’s also the problem that currently available pain drugs only reduce the pain by 25 to 40 percent and that’s in less than half the patients who suffer.

Milligan and Norenberg’s research examines the underlying cause of the pain. Milligan says the latest research indicates non-neurons such as glial immune cells or peripheral immune cells called leukocytes are the driving force for chronic neuropathic pain. So a pain reliever targeted toward the immune cells might reach the heart of the problem. “Our laboratory recently identified in immune cells a molecule called LFA -1 that can move to the spinal pain region and snuggle up right against these pain transmission cells and start talking to them,” she says.

Milligan and Norenberg will repurpose a known compound for use in the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain. Next steps will involve completion of animal studies and the start of clinical trials. She and Norenberg are calling the treatment NorBIRT and have applied for a patent for its use.  As a treatment NorBIRT has a lot to offer as a pain therapy. 

It is:
* Long lasting
*  Non-addictive
*  Has a benign safety profile
*  Doesn’t impair mental function
*  Acts on mediators of pathologic pain
*  Preserves normal sensation
*  Potentially disease modifying

Milligan is seeking money to complete characterization of the treatment. STC.UNM, a non-profit corporation formed and owned by the UNM Board of Regents commercializes intellectual property at the university.  Anyone interested in funding further research or licensing the technology should contact Jovan Huesser, STC Senior Innovation Manager at or 505-272-7908.

A Novel System for the Controlled XeFâ‚‚ Etching of Silicon

Zayd Leseman Presenting at UNM Technology Showcase
Zayd Leseman presenting at UNM Technology Showcase.

Zayd C. Leseman, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering

Arash K. Mousavi, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering

Zayd Leseman and his student Arash Mousavi have found a way to build nanostructures on silicon chips with an extremely precise controlled etching system.  Leseman has ongoing funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL).  His system does not use plasma and thus does not cause damage to delicate nanostructures.  “This is something that we recently did,” he told potential investors.  This is actually a freestanding piece of nanostructured aluminum nitride; we released it by removing the thin silicon film from underneath.” 

Leseman is working at the leading edge of nanomanufacturing processes to build components at the nano scale for consumer devices.  One of the major obstacles for very tiny electronic devices is a way to manufacture the complex set of components needed for new generations.  In a world where a speck of dust is a boulder that blocks progress, Leseman’s technology offers a solution.  This technology will enable things such as even smaller nanoelectronic devices and sensors

Leseman and Mousavi have built and are currently using a prototype machine for the etching. They are searching for strategic relationship partners for business opportunities because they are ready to build a beta system they can begin to manufacture and to market. Leseman says they have a unique system. “So far I’ve received in the last five years about a million dollars from the SNL to actually process structures and to build things for them because they previously didn’t have this capability. Nobody has the capability to do it in a controlled manner that we do.”  

Leseman calls his work a labor of love. He’s worked to perfect the process over the last seven years and says it is now ready for researchers and companies to use. Anyone interested in licensing the technology or in becoming a strategic partner can contact Erin Beaumont, Innovation Manager at or 505-272-7912.

A Repurposed Compound for the Treatment of Stroke and Neurological Disorders

Jeff Hill speaking to investors at UNM Technology Showcase
Jeff Hill speaks to investors at UNM Technology Showcase.

No longer available for licensing

Jeff W. Hill, Dept. of Neurosurgery

Jeff Hill is a research assistant professor in the UNM Health Sciences Center Dept. of Neurosurgery. His research focus is stroke, neuroinflammation, ALS and drug repurposing. He is focused on finding a way to treat stroke because the only current treatment, tPA is given only within a certain time period and only for the purpose of breaking up blood clots in the system. He has been searching for a treatment that might help protect the brain in the event of a stroke.

The drug he would like to repurpose has already been approved by the U.S. FDA. “It’s a molecule that basically in terms of action can be used as a cocktail with tPA,” he says. “The compound would not have any risks and it can be given any time after a stroke.  It aids circulation and minimizes damage after a stroke. And it is a direct neuroprotector.”

Hill was seeking expertise in forming a startup company to begin the FDA requirements for clinical trials, but STC.UNM is now working to license the technology to an established company.

Repurposed Drugs for Treating Benign & Malignant HPV-Induced Tumors

Michelle Ozbun at UNM Technology Showcase
Michelle Ozbun at UNM Technology Showcase.

Michelle A. Ozbun, Dept. of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology

Endowed Professor of Viral Oncology Michelle’s Ozbun’s research examines the way viruses cause warts and tumors on the skin and mucous membranes. There are more than 100 types of human papilloma viruses and the surprised faces when she told a roomful of potential investors that everyone in the room was already infected with some of those viruses was enough to drive home her point about how common these viruses are. She says Americans spend $8 billion annually for treatment and screening for HPV viruses. Worldwide the viruses cause nearly five percent of all cancers.

As a researcher and physician she is frustrated with currently available treatments and that has pushed her to find something better. Ozbun says “The current treatments don’t work well. They can be very painful. They are disfiguring in many cases and they can cause a loss of fertility, loss of voice, loss of taste and they can require many surgeries.”  None of the current treatment cures the lesions or cancers.

She wants to use drugs that are already FDA approved or are in clinical trials to treat HPV induced tumors. The drugs are already in use to treat some types of cancer by quenching a cell growth pathway. She wants to prove the drugs are antiviral and can hit the virus.

In initial cell cultures and in animal models the tumors do not grow as well in the presence of the drugs. She is seeking money to test the drugs individually and in combination to find the most efficient result. “We would like to determine the drug doses that would be required to reduce the chemotherapy and radiation and sensitize the cells,” she says. She says her research group needs a CEO or business development authority to help them move forward.

Anyone interested in licensing or investing in this research can contact Jovan Heusser, STC senior innovation manager, at or 505-272-7908.