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Middle Bit: UI researcher receives $18M grant to study Huntington’s disease

Dr. Peggy Nopoulos, psychiatry, a neurology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, has received a five-year, $18 million grant to expand a decade-long study on brain development in children at risk for developing Huntington’s disease.

Over the last decade, Dr. Nopoulos and her lab have been looking into the gene that causes Huntington’s disease. The original study was funded in 2009 and brought more than 300 participants from across the country to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics for genetic testing and evaluations of brain structure and function. Researchers were able to look at how the brain grows and develops in children who have the gene expansion compared to those with a normal range of DNA repeats.

“Since this was the only study of its kind, this renewal will help us repeat the study with a larger sample size and continue to evaluate the beginnings of the disease process,” Dr. Nopoulous said in a news release.

The newly-funded project, named the Children to Adult Neurodevelopment in Gene-Expanded Huntington’s Disease (ChANGE-HD), aims to expand the size and scope of the original study with four additional sites. The age range will expand to include participants up to the age of 30.

Dr. Nopoulos is the principal investigator for the new grant, awarded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Other members of the UI team involved in the work are Amy Conrad, Dr. Eric Epping, Tim Koscik, Dr. Doug Langbehn, David Moser and Ellen van der Plas.

IDx forms new executive team

Coralville-based IDx Technologies is shuffling its executive leadership team as it works to accelerate product development and scale its operations to accommodate increased market adoption of IDx-DR, its FDA-authorized autonomous AI system that detects a leading cause of blindness. Founder and CEO Dr. Michael Abramoff will succeed Gary Seamans as executive chairman, while John Bertrand will succeed Dr. Abramoff as CEO, the company announced this week. 

Additional executive changes include the appointment of Seth Rainford as president and COO, and Danika Simonson to the newly created role of chief of staff. Mr. Bertrand brings a decade of health care technology experience to IDx, holding a variety of executive roles at Madison, Wisconsin-based Epic Systems, the creator of electronic medical record software. He most recently served as executive in residence at 8VC, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm focused on health care technology. 

“John is an amazing person who is deeply passionate about autonomous AI’s promise to lower cost, improve quality and increase access,” Dr. Abramoff said in a statement. “He is determined to radically transform health care delivery and has a proven track record of successfully executing go-to-market strategy and accelerating growth at numerous companies, which is exactly what we need as market demand rapidly increases.” 

IDx last week announced that its IDx-DR system will be used at CarePortMD retail health clinics located within the Albertsons grocery store chain. IDx-DR uses AI to identify patients with diabetic retinopathy and macular edema, common complications of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness. In July, the American Medical Association established a new billing code for automated point-of-care retinal imaging, speeding adoption of the company’s groundbreaking system.

Cedar Rapids funeral equipment company wins innovation award 

A Cedar Rapids-based company has won second place in the National Funeral Directors Association’s annual Innovation Awards for its lightweight stair climbing system known as “The Stepper.” 

The Stepper is a two-wheeled system designed for lifting and lowering remains of up to 375 pounds. On stairs, a smaller set of wheels electronically grabs the next step and pulls the wheeled platform up or lowers it down with control, eliminating manual lifting and pulling, according to the company. 

“It takes gravity and strength out of the equation of transferring remains from private homes,” said Katie Hill, Mortuary Lift President in a release announcing the award. “A single person of either sex can confidently collect remains from a second floor or basement on their own, without back strain.” 

The NFDA’s Innovation Awards recognize outstanding funeral service equipment, products and processes introduced commercially during the prior year. The Stepper promises to ease the toll lifting takes on workers in the funeral service industry.

Middle Bit: UI researcher receives $18M grant to study Huntington's disease | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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