NJ Health Foundation’s Timely Impact Investing Provides Grants for Range of Innovative Medical Treatments

NJ Health Foundation (NJHF) this past week awarded another $50,000 Innovation Grant as part of its ongoing impact investing program.  The recipient, Tara Alvarez, PhD, is a researcher developing a treatment for children suffering with binocular vision dysfunction.  Dr. Alvarez, a professor of biomedical engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is creating a 3-D virtual reality therapy game for children suffering from this dysfunction.

Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD), which is frequently under diagnosed, is a condition in which a person's eyes are unable to align to focus on a close target, causing significant eye strain as the muscles constantly struggle to re-align.  The condition places limits on time spent reading or looking at a computer screen.  It often results in dizziness, headaches, disorientation, anxiety or difficulty reading.

The grant was awarded as part of the New Jersey Health Foundation Innovation Grants Program that provides grants for promising ideas that may lead to developing patents or intellectual property.  Faculty at organizations that have formal working relationships with NJ Health Foundation are eligible.  This includes: Kessler Foundation, Princeton University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University, Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology.

So far a total of $550,000 has been awarded for eleven Innovation Grants; all but one have been $50,000.  The $50,000 award is seen as a critical investment in research projects often moving them forward once preliminary data has been gathered.  The funding is intended to move researchers through key stages leading to commercialization.

The Innovation Grants have supported researchers on a range of challenging conditions.  One recent award went to a researcher working on therapeutic drug delivery for patients living with recalcitrant diseases for which no effective clinical treatments are available.  Another was awarded to a researcher to advance his studies on the regulation of mast cell development that could be used to treat a variety of diseases, including mast cell leukemia, allergic inflammation and parasitic infections.

Through a second program  Research Grants up to $35,000 are awarded for projects that demonstrate exciting potential and will help the applicant apply for larger grants from other organizations. These grants are for projects at an earlier research stage than the Innovation Grants.

In Dr. Alvarez’s case she is seeking to advance the development of a device and protocol that is therapeutically effective for patients between the ages of eight - 18 and is lower cost than what is currently available. The game format makes participation fun for children affected, thus encouraging compliance to increase treatment effectiveness.

"After meeting with Dr. Alvarez, we began to understand that the binocular vision dysfunction she is addressing can have far-reaching learning repercussions for children with this disorder," stated George F. Heinrich, M.D., vice chair and CEO of New Jersey Health Foundation in a recent press release. "We were drawn to the idea that Dr. Alvarez is employing a novel way for a child to participate in his or her own treatment, which could prove to be very effective when treating BVD."

The Innovation Grant to Dr. Alvarez was the first awarded by New Jersey Health Foundation to NJIT since the organizations developed its formal relationship in the spring of this year.

"We are excited to have the support of the New Jersey Health Foundation, which will help us advance our efforts to commercialize Dr. Alvarez's vision therapy technology," said Judith Sheft, associate vice president for technology and enterprise development at NJIT's New Jersey Innovation Institute. "This project is the first of what we anticipate will be many collaborations in which NJHF and NJIT leverage our respective capabilities to bring game-changing technologies to the market."

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