Science Translated for the Greater Good
ALMOST all of us have been touched in some way by the ravages of cancer. My family is no exception, which makes me thrilled—and humbled—to be part of an organization that is helping make cancer treatment more effective. I know from first-hand experience that surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are highly unpleasant procedures; yet, they succeed in saving more lives than ever before. Lawrence Livermore’s new proton accelerator may be the best method yet for treating certain kinds of tumors buried deep inside the body. Where other forms of radiation damage healthy tissue before zapping the tumor, proton radiation produces far less collateral damage. Until now, proton therapy systems have weighed hundreds of tons, occupied the space of a basketball court, and required a hefty dollar investment. Remarkably, the technology embodied in a small, inexpensive accelerator developed at the request of the Department of Energy (DOE) in support of weapons research may revolutionize cancer treatment.
Translating national security research and development into better health may seem odd. Yet, translations such as this one—to new medical devices, improved manufacturing processes, new research tools, and other applications—occur often at Livermore.
I have been struck by the extraordinary ability of our scientists and engineers to think about problems in new ways and to adapt an invention designed for one use to an entirely different application.
The Industrial Partnerships Office (IPO), described in the article The New Face of Industrial Partnerships, is the Laboratory’s primary link to the private sector and real-world users of our inventions. As such, IPO plays a pivotal role in making any translation succeed. The staff of IPO and its predecessor organization, the Industrial Partnerships and Commercialization Office, are experts at forging relationships with companies eager to commercialize Livermore’s latest developments. For example, an IPO business development executive found a partner to commercialize the proton accelerator to treat cancer. A firm that specializes in innovative radiation treatments, TomoTherapy, Inc., has made a significant investment in the collaborative development of a marketable prototype.
IPO plays an important role in helping to increase the work that Livermore does with new sponsors. Funding from our traditional DOE sponsors declined for fiscal year 2008, which means that funding for the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, our primary tool for advancing basic science, has also declined. More cooperative agreements such as the one with TomoTherapy will help keep Laboratory research on the cutting edge.
IPO Director Erik Stenehjem and his staff are also working aggressively and creatively to increase the number of Laboratory inventions that are commercialized by private firms. Royalties from commercial licenses feed our translational abilities by allowing us to invest that much more in basic science and technology developments. Stenehjem’s team is making excellent use of resources outside the Laboratory to attract venture capital and commercial interest. For example, IPO is working with entrepreneurial graduate students at nearby business schools to improve its marketing of new Laboratory inventions—for residential solar power, water purification, optical devices, and more. The students write business plans for real technologies and may win one of many highly remunerative business-plan competitions. IPO garners business plans that give investors and potential commercial partners everything they need to know about taking a product to market successfully.
Since joining the Laboratory in 2007, I am continually impressed with Livermore’s ability to deliver exceptional science and technology. Equally impressive is IPO’s track record of translating researchers’ results into marketable products and processes that can improve our lives.