Startup Cognivive Plans Games as Digital Therapies

From ideas to innovation with STAIR grants
By Andy Fell on November 6, 2017 in Human & Animal Health

A startup company founded by a University of California, Davis, neuroscientist is developing video games that act as “digital medicine” to treat children with cognitive impairments, as well as people with cognitive limitations resulting from brain injury or aging. The company, Cognivive, is built on research by co-founder Tony Simon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at UC Davis, and others showing that playing action video games can enhance players’ spatiotemporal cognitive abilities.

Cognivive is one of 22 startups selected by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities for an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13 and 14. The company was also recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, for feasibility studies.

Children with neurodevelopment disorders and adults with brain injuries or challenges from aging experience space and time in low resolution, Simon said.

“It’s like a low-resolution camera,” he said. “If you have a high-resolution image, you can do a lot more with it than you can with a low-resolution image. There is a loss of information in how the world is represented.”

Simon began thinking about using video games to build up cognitive abilities about 15 years ago, after seeing a conference poster on the effects of action video games on the brain. Later, he connected it with his own research on how we perceive the world and how cognitive deficits affect some people.

About five years ago, Simon began working with San Francisco-based Funonema to develop some game concepts. Ted Aronson of Funonema is a co-founder of Cognivive.

Building capacity, not just skill

Anyone can get better at a skill by practice, Simon said. But the goal is to develop not just skills, but underlying capacity.

“If I flip a coin a hundred times, I can get good at flipping coins, but it doesn’t help me play the piano,” he said. Playing commercially available action games can build skills, but it doesn’t necessarily build capacity.

Cognivive’s games aim to boost that underlying capacity that different skills can draw on.

“We want these to be full commercial quality games that people will want to play,” Simon said. “If we have a digital medicine, people have to want to take it.”

So far, Cognivive has developed games for desktop computers, but virtual reality — where players wear a headset that covers their entire field of view — and augmented reality, which overlays a game over real-world surroundings, offer great potential for therapeutic games, Simon said.

Media contact(s)

Andy Fell, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533,

Tony Simon, UC Davis MIND Institute, 916-703-0407,

Media Resources

Cognivive company website

University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase

New UC Davis Startups Tackle Complex Problems

Orange grove

Original post:

The University of California, Davis, enabled the foundation of 14 commercial startups during the past fiscal year through licensing agreements, or exclusive options to obtain such licenses, for technologies developed at the university. This brings the total number of new startups in the past five years to 63.

“Helping translate university research into community impact and direct benefit to society remains a priority at UC Davis,” said Associate Vice Chancellor of Research Dushyant Pathak, executive director of the university’s Venture Catalyst team. “An important way in which we are facilitating this impact, is through the directed support we are providing to campus innovators in realizing their entrepreneurial ambitions through the formation of better enabled startups,” said Pathak.

Many of this year’s startups address critical needs in human health, such as Tesio Pharmaceuticals, which is looking for ways to prevent arthritis after injury and PvP Biologics, which has created an enzyme that may be a therapeutic treatment for celiac disease.

Cognivive, developed by Tony Simon, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a member of the MIND Institute faculty, is developing video games to help people with cognitive deficits. The company builds on research demonstrating that people who play action video games show enhanced abilities in spatiotemporal cognition. Simon developed a “neurotherapeutic” game to help improve the spatial and temporal attention of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, brain-injury patients and people with age-related cognitive deficits.

Recent testing with game prototypes has shown very promising results.

“We can really increase the extent of the visual field over which people using the treatment game can detect and encode information,” Simon said.

Simon is currently developing a virtual reality version of the game.

XTB Laboratories Inc., founded by Cristina Davis, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has developed a method that can quickly and noninvasively diagnose a devastating citrus disease known as “citrus greening.” The disease has cost the citrus industry billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Read more…

UC Davis Spin-off Company, Evolve BioSystems, Secures $20 Million in Funding

UC Davis Spin-off Company, Evolve BioSystems, Secures $20 Million in Funding from Investment Groups to Advance Targeted Microbiome Products

Evolve BioSystems Inc., a spin-off from the UC Davis Foods For Health Institute, that is developing novel solutions to restore and maintain a healthy newborn gut microbiome, announced that it has completed a $20 million Series B financing to fund the commercialization of its initial products.

The company is developing activated probiotic and prebiotic products based on research that shows the infant gut microbiome plays a critical role in the development of a healthy immune system and early metabolic programing as well as meeting the infant’s dietary needs.

Evolve’s founding team, which includes UC Davis faculty members Bruce German, David Mills, Carlito Lebrilla and Daniela Barile, along with previous UC Davis scientist Dr. Samara Freeman, has been conducting research at the forefront of infant nutritional health for over a decade, with a focus on understanding the key role of breast milk in creating a healthy intestinal tract.

The company states the funding will support ongoing clinical activities, operational expansion, and the launch of the initial commercial products. It will also support the development and commercialization of additional animal health products, which aim to restore the balance of nursing animals’ microbiomes.

Read more here.

14 new startups based on technologies developed at UC Davis tackle range of scientific, medical, and societal problems

14 new startups based on technologies developed at UC Davis tackle range of scientific, medical, and societal problems

The University of California, Davis, enabled the foundation of 14 commercial startups during the past fiscal year— matching the largest number of new ventures launched in a single year, based on UC Davis technologies.

MUSE Microscopy, one of the startups, is planning to revolutionize the way pathologists identify disease. The company’s technology, jointly developed with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has the potential to save pathologists time and money.

Examining patient tissue under a microscope is critical for research and diagnosing diseases, but preparing samples for slides is costly and time-consuming, taking hours to days. MUSE has developed an alternative: a method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light and fluorescent dyes to generate high-definition images of tissue features without the drawbacks of traditional slide preparation.

Logos4n, another startup based on research being conducted at UC Davis, has developed a method to identify individuals’ genomes with high precision, as well as measure genetic changes from development, stress and aging.

Founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Kiho Cho sees a wide range of possible applications for the company’s genetic surveillance protocols and algorithms such as animal and plant breeding, cell and tissue typing, fundamental cell biology and genetics, and judicial forensics. He also notes several medical applications including genome toxicology (how people’s genomes respond to drugs and environmental toxins), monitoring of radiation therapy, and marker discovery to help diagnose and study diseases.

“Our genetics surveillance technologies have opened the pathway to new understandings of the dynamic genome landscape in biology in general and to individual diagnostics and treatments of some of the most challenging medical conditions in our society,” said Cho.

Several other companies are developing medical applications such as new therapies for high-mortality cancers, Sapience Therapeutics; new anti-inflammatories, AccenGen Therapeutics; a portable non-invasive screening tool for diagnosing traumatic brain injury, Vizzario; and a wearable device for managing vein disorders, VenoSense.

Beyond the biomedical space, UC Davis startups are also tackling important societal problems., for example, has created an app to reduce America’s massive food waste problem by alerting users when food is about to go bad and even providing a recipe to uses the item, rather than let it go to waste.

foodfully22 app notifies user when food is about to expire

Innovation part of University of California culture

University of California campuses, including UC Davis, are powerhouses when it comes to innovation.

In July, the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association ranked University of California number one in the world among universities based on granted U.S. patents. And according to a report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, UC researchers and entrepreneurs have spawned hundreds of new companies, contributing more than $20 billion to California’s economy.

This past year UC Davis innovators were issued 35 U.S. and 29 foreign patents. The university also executed 98 copyright licenses, processed 233 records of inventions, filed 200 U.S. and 22 foreign patents, and negotiated 51 licenses and 799 material transfer agreements.

In total, 51 startups, including the 14 new companies for fiscal year 2015-2016, have been formed at UC Davis during the past five years.

Campus entrepreneurs supported by UC Davis Venture Catalyst

Venture Catalyst, within the Technology Management & Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research, provides a range of services and resources to help campus inventors and entrepreneurs turn their technologies into companies focused on developing products or services that benefit society.
Venture Catalyst guides researchers through the startup phase including company formation, establishing the appropriate corporate structure, creating connections to mentors and commercial service providers, and provides access to startup incubation facilities.

“This last year, we have seen Venture Catalyst and our collaborative partners support the creation and foundational development of a new cohort of exciting startups based on the novel and compelling research of our faculty, students and staff,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of research, who also serves as the executive director of Venture Catalyst. “Our startups, with their focus on commercializing effective solutions for pressing societal needs, represent one of the ways in which UC Davis fulfils its mission to serve the greater good of California, the nation and the world.”

Venture Catalyst works closely with campus and local community resources, including its companion units, InnovationAccess and the Office of Corporate Relations, the university’s Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and local and regional drivers of economic development to support the translation of university research into economic impact.

Venture Catalyst also provides grants to help campus entrepreneurs demonstrate commercial proof-of-concept and the feasibility of their market impact.

UC Davis Startups fiscal year 2015-2016

1. A-Chip. Microfluidic-based diagnostic tool for evaluating inflammatory cell activation and assessing a patient’s risk for a repeat heart attack.
2. AccenGen Therapeutics. Novel anti-inflammatories for indications with the highest unmet needs, such as sinusitis, pain, cardiovascular, respiratory indications and cancer.
3. Amaryllis Nucleics. More efficient RNA-sequencing library synthesis for diagnostics, pharmaceutical development and food security.
4. Biomass Liquefaction Technologies. Innovative process for energy-efficient high solids liquefaction of biomass.
5. App that integrates with grocery store purchases to alert users when food is about to go bad and even provides a recipe.
6. GlycoHub. Highly effective enzymatic approaches for high-yield and cost-effective production of complex glycans.
7. Izotropic Corporation. Breast computer tomography for early cancer detection and diagnosis.
8. LOGOS4n. High-resolution genetics, genome, DNA surveillance technologies, to be applied to precision diagnostics and prognostics.
9. MUSE Microscopy, Inc. Novel slide-free microscopy technology for research and diagnostic applications.
10. Protein Architects. Beta solenoid proteins as “molecular Legos” for applications in self-assembly of nanoparticle based devices and materials.
11. Sapience Therapeutics. Novel therapeutics for major unmet medical needs, particularly high-mortality cancers.
12. SensIT. Microelectromechanical-based chemical sensors and information systems.
13.VenoSense. Wearable sensing platform for management of chronic venous disorder.
14. Vizzario. A non-invasive portable screening methodology for diagnosing traumatic brain Injury.

More Information

Media contact:

AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-1101,

UC Davis researchers one step closer to creating hand-held device to detect pathogens like E. coli

AstRoNA Biotechnologies is working to create a hand-held device that can be used to detect a variety of pathogens, including foodborne pathogens like E. coli.

AstRoNA Biotechnologies is working to create a hand-held device that can be used to detect a variety of pathogens, including foodborne pathogens like E. coli, pictured here. (Credit: Thinkstock)

Marc Pollack, a Ph.D. student in the UC Davis Microbiology graduate group, and Jeremy Warren, a former postdoc in Plant Pathology, leave Davis at 5 a.m. every weekday morning to commute to IndieBio, a startup accelerator in a narrow alley just south of Market Street in the heart of San Francisco.

It’s where, for four months, they will represent the rest of their team and strenuously refine the business idea behind Astrona, a pathogen detection startup that originated as one of 13 UC Davis interdisciplinary research programs funded by a grant from the Office of Research.

The product they are trying to create is a hand-held device that can be used to detect a variety of pathogens—including foodborne pathogens like E. coli—at all stages in the food supply chain, from fields to restaurants. And the detection technology is applicable to broad range of pathogens, offering potential for other uses such as in the medical field.

The team is now trying to make the leap from a great idea to a viable product. Grappling with the reality that this step may be as difficult, if not more, than the original research, and they are trying to leverage all the resources available to them to increase their chances of success.

Marc Pollack, left, and Jeremy Warren at IndieBio in San Francisco. IndieBio is a startup accelerator in San Francisco. After a four-month program, Pollack and Warren will present AstRoNA Biotechnologies, Inc., to potential investors at IndieBio’s Demo Day this summer.

Marc Pollack, left, and Jeremy Warren at IndieBio in San Francisco. IndieBio is a startup accelerator in San Francisco. After a four-month program, Pollack and Warren will present AstRoNA Biotechnologies, Inc., to potential investors at IndieBio’s Demo Day this summer. (Credit: Astrona)

Accelerators create new ways to launch businesses

Startup accelerators like IndieBio, also known as seed accelerators, are business acceleration programs. Other examples include Y-Combinator and the Illumina Accelerator. The model originated about 10 years ago and has grown in popularity for launching new businesses, particularly in California. The application process is competitive, but if accepted, the accelerator provides seed money and an intensive mentoring and networking program in exchange for a share of the startup’s equity.

Astrona Biotechnologies, Inc., which was founded in 2015 by UC Davis faculty Bryce Falk, Maria Marco, Paul Feldstein, Andre Knoesen, Josh Hihath, Erkin Seker, and Ph.D. students Marc Pollack and Jeremy Warren, is one of 15 companies that are part of IndieBio’s spring 2016 cohort. What unifies the cohorts is they are all using biology as the basis of their technology.

As part of the program, Astrona may receive up to $200,000 in cash and $50,000 in program support from IndieBio in exchange for 8 percent equity in the company. Cohorts accepted into the accelerator move together through a three- to four-month program that involves mentoring and education, culminating in a “Demo Day” where each team presents its now-refined business plan to potential investors, media and the public.

Participating in the accelerator program has been intense for Pollack and Warren, not only because of the long drive and long day (they typically head back to Davis around 7 p.m.), but because of the intense scrutiny given to every aspect of Astrona. Pollack describes a recent mentoring session in which each participant had to examine what purpose they bring to their company. “That kind of intense self-reflection,” which is not something they normally did in the lab, “keeps us focused on why we are here.”

But even more than understanding what role they play within the company, the experience is helping the team refine its product concept. Pollack explains, “It is helping us understand how we fit into the general market. A lot of scientists come up with great ideas and they are great in theoretical mindsets, but when you bring it out into the world it’s important to understand where it fits in for customers.”

Chips for the bioanalyzer in Dr. Marco’s lab. The analyzer uses microfluidics to analyze DNA, RNA, protein, and cells using sample-specific chips.

Chips for the bioanalyzer in Dr. Marco’s lab. The analyzer uses microfluidics to analyze DNA, RNA, protein, and cells using sample-specific chips. (Credit: UC Davis)

A journey with many stepping stones

Astrona’s technology emerged out of a unique interdisciplinary research seed-funding program, Research Investments in Science and Engineering (RISE). In 2012, the university made a bold investment of $10.8 million to fund the RISE program, assembling teams of experts from different disciplines to address global challenges. Astrona arose from one of 13 teams that received funding from the program, bringing together experts in the fields of plant pathology, food science, electrical engineering and computer engineering.

“The accomplishments of the Astrona team exemplifies the effectiveness of interdisciplinary research in finding practical solutions to complex problems,” said Paul Dodd, associate vice chancellor for research. “While the team’s initial work focused on illuminating some of the underpinning biological science, they were able to quickly leverage those insights to develop technology for a potential commercial solution.”

Funding from the RISE program helped to create a rich team-research learning environment where undergraduate students, early-career faculty and more senior academics were able to work together on problems of common interest.

Dr. Maria Marco.

Dr. Maria Marco. (Credit: UC Davis)

Maria Marco, an associate professor in Food Science & Technology, said the RISE program created a unique opportunity for her. “I would have never started working on my own with Erkin and Josh,” who are both assistant professors in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Marco, who studies the microbiome—specifically lactic acid bacteria found in our food and guts—said initially there were challenges simply communicating. “Food science, electrical and computer engineering—we speak a different language. Even among biologists—ecologist and molecular biologists—there are different words and we use different definitions. So part of the challenge was learning to use the words in the right way.”

Marco sees her role as keeping the team grounded regarding pathogen detection, “This is the food environment,” but she remains excited about the technology they have created. “It has real potential to bridge my world with the electrical engineering world.” She laughs when she describes her initial thoughts about how long it would take. “Naively I thought back in 2012 that the engineers had everything worked out and it was just a matter of me telling them ‘Okay, I’m just going to do a little bit of work to get the nucleic acids out of these pathogens and then we can make a device.’”

Actually bridging those two points, though, has been far more arduous. She describes what the team has created as “a process” rather than a product at this point, a specific method to capture and amplify nucleic acid signals for different organisms so the organisms can be detected. For the initial product, the team is focusing on organisms that cause foodborne illnesses, such as the nasty E. coli O157:H7.

As the team progressed, members connected with UC Davis Venture Catalyst seeking assistance in forming a new company based on their vision for the product. Venture Catalyst provides campus entrepreneurs with guidance and resources to help researchers do just that, as well as offering customized services to help them succeed. Astrona participated in Venture Catalyst’s START™ program through which, in addition to company formation, it received help in developing the company’s business plan and assessing its strategy for commercializing its proprietary pathogen detection technology.

“Astrona provides a great example of how campus entrepreneurs can leverage the programs and services offered by the university to translate their cutting-edge research into commercial application,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of research and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “The early work we do in effectively enabling our campus entrepreneurs, makes our startups more competitive for external resources like those offered by IndieBio.”

To manage their teaching load and their work with the startup, the faculty members are using some of their allowed consulting days to work on Astrona (faculty receive 48 days for an annual appointment, 39 days for nine-month appointment). Pollack is still working on his Ph.D. and is doing his Biotech Internship through the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology with Astrona. Warren has finished his postdoc in Falk’s lab and is now working for Astrona full-time.

AstRoNA Biotechnologies, Inc., developed out of an interdisciplinary grant from the UC Davis RISE program. From left to right: Bryce Falk, Jeremy Warren, Marc Pollack, Maria Marco, Erkin Seker, Josh Hihath, Andre Knoesen. Not pictured: Paul Feldstein. (UC Davis, May 4th, 2016)

AstRoNA Biotechnologies, Inc., developed out of an interdisciplinary grant from the UC Davis RISE program. From left to right: Bryce Falk, Jeremy Warren, Marc Pollack, Maria Marco, Erkin Seker, Josh Hihath, Andre Knoesen. Not pictured: Paul Feldstein. (Credit: UC Davis, May 4th, 2016)

What’s next? Preparing for “Demo Day”

Back in San Francisco, Pollack and Warren have created a detector (although not quite a product prototype) that they are debugging in time for Demo Day, which will take place this summer. All 15 teams in the spring cohort will participate. The event usually draws about a thousand attendees.

Even though it’s still a few months off, Warren says getting ready for the presentation feels very rushed. “Our science works, but we need to be able to get up there and show how it works. We have seven minutes to wow everybody.”



Lisa Howard
Communications Specialist
UC Davis Office of Research
(530) 752-8117

Jeremy Warren
CEO, Astrona Biotechnologies
(530) 867 3786

Improving detection of breast cancer

Improving detection of breast cancer

Dr. John Boone is a recognized expert in the field of medical imaging, with a focus on improving breast cancer detection. He and his team have developed a device with the potential to detect tumors in the breast earlier and with less discomfort.

The American Cancer Society reports that breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer among American women, following skin cancers. It estimates that about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.

Traditionally, mammograms have been used to detect breast cancers as part of aboonebreastct_300dpi-003 regular screening, but Boone has developed what could be a better approach, hopefully improving both detection and patient outcomes. Boone and his team have designed and developed an innovative computed tomography (CT) scanner designed specifically for imaging the breast (UC Case 2005-543). The intended advantage of this device is that it provides a true three-dimensional, highly-detailed image of the human breast, offering a less obstructed view of potential lesions than the current two-dimensional mammogram.

Unlike mammography, the scanner does not require compression of the breast. Instead, the patient lies face down on a padded table and places the breast in a circular opening. The scanner generates 300 to 500 tomographic image “slices” of the breast, which are then assembled into a three-dimensional digital model. The imaging procedure takes approximately 10 seconds.

Thanks to support from the National Institutes of Health, Boone’s team has assembled four scanners that have been used to image over 600 women at the UC Davis Medical Center.

The technology led to the formation of Isotropic Imaging Corporation, which intends to license the technology developed at UC Davis to commercialize a scanner.