FAU, Scripps, Max Planck Team Up To Push Technology

A state-of-the-art electron microscope housed at the Max Planck Florida Institute of Neuroscience in Jupiter is found in only a handful of places in North America and provides Brandon Lloyd, a Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University, with a unique glimpse of the brain’s wiring.

Lloyd takes advantage of this powerful machine called “block-face-scanning-EM” — a revolutionary technology invented by Planck scientist Winfried Denk — to untangle the synaptic wiring diagram of the brain and begin to understand how it is assembled during development. He’s one of many FAU students who will soon benefit from an innovative, groundbreaking collaboration between FAU and two world-renowned research institutes — the Max Planck Society and the Scripps Research Institute.

The three unveiled plans March 2 to create unique programs that will blend their vast intellectual capacity with cutting-edge technology to attract the nation’s best students and researchers to FAU’s John D. MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

“We have two of the world’s greatest science brands right here in one of the most enviable locations on this planet,” FAU President John Kelly said. “Together with Max Planck and Scripps Florida, we are poised to transform our Jupiter campus and this region into one of the world’s most advanced locations for scientific research and education.”

Promoting economic development, this initiative will train future scientists and entrepreneurs, create jobs and find solutions for diseases and health problems that also contribute to soaring healthcare costs. Kelly notes that the collaboration will provide a platform for students and faculty to take their ideas from concept to commercialization.

FAU and Scripps already have launched several spinoff initiatives from faculty discoveries and inventions, ranging from novel compounds that have the potential to treat diseases such as cancer, stroke, epilepsy and metabolic disorders, to the development of a portable, handheld wireless ultrasound device. In addition, FAU has licensed the rights to various technologies developed by its faculty, including a first-of-its-kind process to produce cultured pearls from the conch shell and a phone app to help solve the growing problem of auto accidents caused by people texting and driving.

A unique FAU program designed to minimize unnecessary hospitalizations of older patients in skilled nursing facilities is showing that a patient can be treated in the nursing home without any complications and only costing Medicare about $200 instead of $10,000 or more. INTERACT (Interventions to Reduce Acute Care Transfers) Team Strategies is a company that has evolved from this program and FAU’s new Tech Runway. It provides training, education and consulting services to the long-term care industry. To date, nearly 20 companies have licensed the right to use FAU’s INTERACT tools.

“We are building something very unique that will open doors for students and transform this region into a research powerhouse,” said James Paulson, acting president and CEO of Scripps. “This will set the stage to attract more research institutions and biomedical industry to this area.”

As part of the initiative, FAU, Scripps Florida and Max Planck will develop STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programs folding in FAU’s expertise in the liberal arts to inspire the creative process for future scientists and entrepreneurs. Students will work and study alongside some of the world’s leading scientists as part of their degree programs, while undergraduate research projects will be mentored by these same scientists.

David Fitzpatrick, CEO and scientific director at Max Planck, noted that the collaboration would help propel the Jupiter campus to new heights, building a center of scientific excellence rich in technology and expertise.

“We are creating a vibrant environment that will rival other institutions throughout the country and serve as a catalyst for groundbreaking research,” he said.

FAU’s economic impact on Florida’s economy during 2010-11, the most recently available data, was $6.3 billion. “This initiative will give us a unique opportunity to greatly increase our impact on Florida’s economy and truly demonstrate how ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,’” Kelly said.

ABOVE: (L-R) Max Planck CEO David Fitzpatrick, FAU President John Kelly and Scripps Research Institute Acting President James Paulson.