Cooperative Research

This PET scan image showing chemical uptake in the brain of a monkey is
being used to test the effectiveness of a treatment for Parkinson's disease.
The scan was one of the preliminary experiments done under an LBL
partnership with Somatix Therapy Corporation.

AS A NATIONAL LABORATORY that receives the bulk of its funding from the U.S. Department of Energy but is managed by the University of California, LBL has traditionally maintained strong ties to both the federal and state government. As a national laboratory located near the heart of this country's computer-based high-tech and biotechnology industries, LBL has also formed strong ties to the private sector of the economy in those research areas that benefit the lab's scientific mission. This past year, to better coordinate these two vital connections, LBL consolidated its government and community relations office and its technology transfer department into the Office of Industry and Government Partnerships (IGP). The thrust of IGP's mission will be to speed the process by which the knowledge gained from LBL's scientific research is converted into technological goods and services that will benefit the taxpayers who paid for the research.

Five years ago, Congress passed legislation that permitted federally-funded laboratories for the first time to enter into cooperative research ventures with private industry. This legislation led to the establishment of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) as the primary vehicle for transferring technology from the national labs to commercial applications. Last year, LBL signed 27 CRADAs, including ten Energy Research Laboratory Technology Transfer (ER-LTT) awards, which are funded by DOE's Office of Energy Research and are considered the most prestigious. Several of these ER-LTT awards have far-reaching potential for the American public.

In a $2.5 million partnership with the Somatix Therapy Corporation, LBL will put its expertise in medical imaging to work against Parkinson's disease. Somatix will use its genetic engineering techniques to create special skin cells that produce a chemical found in the brain called "dopamine," deficiencies of which are thought to cause Parkinson's disease. LBL will then use its Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) techniques, which are carried out on a machine that provides the highest resolution in the world, to test the therapeutic effectiveness of these special skin cells (called fibroblasts).

In another ERL-TT award, LBL has reached a $1.5 million agreement with the pharmaceutical firm of Rhone Poulenc-Rorer, Inc. LBL researchers will use the transgenic mice (mice that carry human genes in their chromosomes) they have developed to identify and clone the defective genes thought to be a cause of diabetes and obesity. Researchers at Rhone Poulenc-Rorer will then use this genetic material to develop drugs to treat the diseases in humans.

The commercial market for "flat-panel displays"--computer screens that are as thin as a credit card--is expected to grow to $20 billion by the year 2000. LBL has signed a $1 million ERL-TT award with SI Diamond, Inc., to study the physical properties of "amorphous diamond"--a noncrystalline or liquid-like form of diamond. Amorphous diamond is the basis for the company's unique "cold cathodes." Conventional computer monitors are lit by a cathode-ray electron gun that scans its electron beam back and forth across a grid of phosphor chemicals. SI Diamond has replaced the electron gun with an array of thousands of tiny electron sources--made from amorphous diamonds--that are called "cold cathodes" because they emit electrons at low temperatures. Cold cathodes are three times more energy efficient than conventional cathode-ray guns, but researchers need to know more about amorphous diamonds in order to create the large, homogenous surfaces needed for displays. LBL will provide the imaging expertise and equipment needed to obtain this information.

In a related effort, LBL researchers have also teamed up with researchers at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories to develop a better blue light-emitting diode (LED). Blue LED technology is considered to be the key to the emergence of the next generation of flat-panel displays which would be brighter than the liquid crystal displays in use today. Blue LEDs are also a prerequisite to blue diode lasers, a long-sought technological innovation that would quadruple the amount of information that can be recorded on a CD-ROM.

A number of high-technology products have already entered the marketplace as a result of CRADAs between LBL and private industry. Three of the more prominent this past year: a blood test based on antisera developed at LBL that was marketed to hospitals in the U.S. by Diagnostics Systems Laboratory, Inc.; Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs) which were produced by Conductus, Inc., based on superconducting materials developed at LBL, for use in non-invasive medical and geophysical instruments that measure faint changes in magnetic fields; and a computer software system called Hydrophysical Logging Technology, which was developed jointly by LBL and the Colog Company, that is being used by geologists to characterize the movement of water underground.

LBL does not only transfer technology to the private sector for commercialization. Other valuable technology is transferred to the public sector as well--technology that can mean the difference between life and death. One example started with small-scale test programs in 1979 in which LBL researchers began the development of a radiosurgical technique that uses highly energized beams of protons or heavy ions (charged atoms with more than one proton in their nucleus). Because such beams deposit all of their energy at a single, precisely measurable point (as opposed to x-rays which distribute their radiation indiscriminately), they can be used in sensitive tissue and organs with little risk of complications. Through years of careful testing, this radiosurgical technique proved safe and highly effective in the treatment of certain forms of eye cancer and the deadly blood clots deep inside the brain known as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) that would otherwise have been inoperable.

LBL physicist Kenneth Frankel (left) and physician Richard Levy examine a film showing brain abnormalities.

In the past year, LBL researchers completed a project to transfer its eye cancer program to the University of California at Davis, and signed an agreement with Loma Linda University to transfer its AVM treatment to that institution's Medical Center. The UC Davis clinic expects to use the technique to treat as many as 40 people this year for uveal melanoma. In the past, the only alternative to save the lives of uveal melanoma victims was to remove the eye.

The transfer of the AVM technology to Loma Linda is expected to take about two years. It is estimated that some 300,000 individuals in this country suffer from AVMs, which typically appear in otherwise healthy young people and can cause lethal or permanently disabling brain hemorrhages and seizures. The LBL treatment technique has achieved a cure rate of greater than 85 percent on patients suffering from the most extreme cases of AVMs.

Return to the Table of Contents of the 1994 Regents Report