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Three out of a dozen new grants awarded Wednesday by the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology will go to the University of Montana to help support research capable of spawning economic development.

UM received nearly $350,000 from the state board to push three separate projects, including one aimed at applied biomedical research and another to develop equipment used for environmental monitoring.

The final grant will help Thomas Rau, a postdoctoral fellow at UM, continue in-vitro testing of a novel compound used for treating infected wounds, bringing the product one step closer to listing by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical trails.

“When someone comes across technology that has good potential at a good price, we’re pretty interested,” said Dave Desch, executive director of the state board. “This is an economic development effort, and we’re trying to increase business activity.”

The state board awarded a total of $1.1 million to 12 research projects taking place in Billings, Bozeman, Butte Havre, Kalispell and Missoula.

Nearly $150,000 went to UM Regents Professor Richard Bridges and the Enhancement of Applied Research in Biomedicine project, helping fund continued work in the treatment of diseases of the nervous system.

Desch said the grant will help build an applied biomedical research enterprise and support work between UM researchers and the private sector, including new Montana biotech companies and the Neuroscience Institute at St. Patrick Hospital, among others.

“Over the years, they’ve been able to attract an additional $35 million in federal funding through their activities,” Desch said of the UM program. “It’s a pretty significant achievement.”

According to the grant award, the program places a strong emphasis on the development of novel diagnostics, devices and therapeutic agents related to the treatment of brain diseases.

Desch said the state board has supported the program for nearly a decade, helping develop new patents and spinoff companies, including Sinapis Pharma, run by UM biomedical research professor Dave Poulsen.

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“They’ve been working on treatments that have attracted some private capital, and that’s always a good thing,” said Desch.

The state also awarded $144,000 to UM chemistry professor Michael DeGrandpre and industrial partner Sunburst Sensors.

Together, they’re working to develop a low-cost analyzer for use in industrial control and environmental monitoring, according to the grant award.

“We want to fund research projects that have commercial applications,” said Desch. “Sometimes they’re near-term goals, and sometimes they’re further out. DeGrandpre’s work is near term. They should be able to get something out on the market in a couple years.”

Since its inception in 2001, the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology has funded 197 projects totaling nearly $40 million. The board is part of the Montana Department of Commerce.

“Since the program’s inception, board-funded projects have leveraged $44 million in matching funds and have attracted $301 million in follow-on funding,” said Meg O’Leary, director of the Department of Commerce. “These projects are an investment in Montana’s technology future and in the tech companies that develop around this research activity.”

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Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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