Collaborate to Innovate

June 06, 2012

Great innovators recognize challenges and opportunities, think creatively and research ideas diligently.

This year’s University of Arizona Technology Innovation Award winners prove that successful innovators also know how to create public and private relationships that turn ideas into products and services.

The Office of University Research Parks and the Arizona Center of Innovation hosted the annual Innovation Day at which the UA recognized Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, M.D., and Alexandra Armstrong for their achievements in moving ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Pathologist and UA faculty member Weinstein has spent a career innovating in the areas of telemedicine and telepathology, developing companies and inventing medical devices. 

Alexandra Armstrong, a final-year PhD student in veterinary sciences and microbiology, has developed a vaccine for chickens that can reduce food-borne illness in humans.

Moving Among Different Circles

Weinstein has long worked comfortably outside of his primary field of medicine.

“I was specifically trained to move among the worlds of researchers, practitioners, businessmen and governmental officials beginning at an early age,” he says.

His father, H. Edward Weinstein, himself an inventor and entrepreneur, used family businesses to train his three children, as teenagers, to become skilled in business, government relations and rigorous intellectual inquiry.

“In retrospect, our father had essentially created a private entrepreneurship school for his three children,” Weinstein fondly recalls. “He felt that’s what you need to be a well-rounded professional.”

Weinstein emerged well-prepared for a career that links basic research and beneficial applications.

Weinstein founded the Arizona Telemedicine Program, a health-care delivery system that uses broadband telecommunications to connect medical professionals to patients.

He pioneered telepathology, developing and patenting scientific instruments and approaches that allow pathologists to remotely examine medical tests to make more accurate diagnoses in shorter amounts of time.

Weinstein, a professor of pathology in the UA College of Medicine, has developed software for computer-based education.

He created a videoconferencing facility at the Phoenix Biosciences Campus to allow remote gatherings of medical students and faculty.

In this way, he hopes to develop a new health care-delivery approach that relies on inter-professional teams of decentralized health care workers to provide services to rural and urban patients.

Weinstein thrives on relationships that bring his research to market. “I enjoy the business world,” he says, “and I have enormous admiration for businessmen and businesswomen. They constantly energize me!”

Discovering the Research-Business Link

Armstrong had no idea her research would turn her into an entrepreneur.

Her doctoral studies focused on Salmonella in oysters and in the feedlot environments of beef cattle.

She then started work, led by Dr. Lynn Joens in the UA Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, to develop a vaccine that would reduce a common bacterium in broiler chickens. Campylobacter jejuni causes diarrhea, cramping, fever and more serious conditions in humans.

She and her partners have launched a company that eventually will manufacture and sell the vaccine.

“Understanding and preventing bacterial food-borne illness has been a strong interest of mine,” says Armstrong, who graduates this year with a PhD in microbiology.

“I had no idea that this would be the way my goal would ultimately be best realized.”

She launched her graduate studies “focused exclusively on academic pursuits,” she says, including teaching biology and microbiology at the UA and Pima Community College.

She discovered that the UA could help turn her research into a marketable vaccine.

“I had not realized the diversity of programs and assistance they have to offer,” she says.

She says the “invaluable” programs help bridge UA activities with industry and the community.

Like Weinstein, Armstrong may spend her career moving among the worlds of research, business and teaching now that she’s experienced how ideas become products.

“I find research very rewarding,” she says, “but there is both room and need for research in business settings. I am also not ready to give up teaching.”

Watch a video that traces more than 100 years of innovation at the University of Arizona.