Scientist’s startup wins business competition

Brenda Russell

Brenda Russell is chief scientific officer for Cell Habitats, a startup that just won $10,000 in a business plan competition. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


Scientist Brenda Russell’s first business venture was a company that sold cell habitats — petri dishes perfect for examining cell growth.

“We couldn’t get anyone interested,” said Russell, professor emerita of physiology and biophysics.

Although the 2005 company didn’t take off, Russell continued her research and eventually started a new company called Cell Habitats, a nod to her first venture. The startup biotech company, focused on repairing injured heart tissues, won the AdvaMed Business Plan Competition Oct. 8, winning a $10,000 prize.

Gloved hands working with lab samples

The firm develops microdevices called regenerods. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

National Institutes of Health grants helped fund the science behind Cell Habitats, which develops microdevices called regenerods. The devices mimic stem cell activity, leading to regeneration of normal healthy tissue. “We are making microstructures of the right shape and stiffness with the right growth factor to boost natural cardiac repair,” Russell said.

student holding petri dish

Graduate student Elina Sarmah works in Brenda Russell’s lab. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

As chief scientific officer of Cell Habitats, Russell concentrates on her work in the lab. CEO Mike Flavin, a 1984 Pharmacy grad, presented the business plan at the AdvaMed competition.

“I understand the science, but not how to attract money,” Russell said.

Russell has conducted trials of the technology on small animals but wants to raise enough money to conduct studies using large animal models, the next step before human clinical trials. “We’ll be working to leverage this $10,000 award to secure significant funding for the preclinical development of our technology,” Russell said. “The goal is FDA approval in preparation for future human clinical trials.”

UIC researchers who have ideas for a startup should contact the Office of Technology Management for help, Russell said. “The OTM is really good at screening the idea to see if it’s really a new idea and if it’s something that might be commercial and practical,” Russell said.

“The most important thing is to file the patent to protect the intellectual property.”


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