‘Ear-in-a-dish’ technology developed by IU startup among Best in Show at state expo

  • Sept. 2, 2015


Auricyte LLC, an Indiana University startup that aims to cure hearing loss by growing human stem cells into functioning hearing cells, is among five companies being honored Thursday for being named “Best in Show” at the recent Innovation Showcase 2015.

Co-founded in 2014 by IU School of Medicine researchers Karl Koehler, Eri Hashino and Gerry Oxford, the Indianapolis-based company was one of 74 ventures to take part in what is considered the Hoosier state’s largest annual expo for fledgling companies. Held at Speedway’s Dallara IndyCar Factory and sponsored in part by Innovate Indiana, the event -- created by the Venture Club of Indiana in 2009 -- introduces participants to potential investors and requires “minute pitches” to sell their ideas.

A top-12 finish in the minute-pitch competition advanced Auricyte to the finals, which was won by Edwin the Duck, a two-way application designed by Carmel-based Pi Lab to educate and entertain children using interactive software, stories and songs.

Auricyte won the competition’s Seed Stage Award, receiving the most votes of any company that seeks such funding, Koehler said. Seed funds are the earliest form of capital sought by startup companies. Haven, an IU-funded developer of a mobile and Web application that helps Indianapolis-area homeowners maintain their property, also was among the final 12.

The awards ceremony begins at 11:15 a.m. at the law offices of Barnes & Thornburg at 11 S. Meridian St. in Indianapolis. The program includes a pitch session featuring all five winners, a panel discussion and a question-and-answer segment. Tickets are $45 each.

“We are thrilled that the showcase judges selected Auricyte for the Seed Stage Award out of such a diverse and exciting group of companies,” Koehler said.

Auricyte’s self-described “ear-in-a-dish” technology, otherwise known as the 3D Ear platform, represents a next-generation therapy that extends beyond the amplified sound currently offered by hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Through published research by Koehler and Hashino, inner ear cells from a mouse were shown for the first time to be grown from stem cells in 3-D cultures. At present, Auricyte -- part of the IU Research and Technology’s Corp.’s Spin Up program -- is developing first-of-their-kind functional hearing cells derived from human stem cells. The company also holds the only patent pending for such technology.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two to three children out of 1,000 born annually are either deaf or hearing-impaired. The World Health Organization estimates about one-third of all individuals age 65 or older have some form of presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. In all, about 5 percent of the world’s population, or 360 million people, is affected by hearing loss. WHO projects that number to exceed 900 million by 2025.

“This is truly a disruptive technology,” said Joe Trebley, director of the Spin Up program. “If drug or gene-based regenerative therapies for hearing loss are shown to be successful, they could fundamentally change how hearing loss is treated. Hearing aids and cochlear implants would become archaic, if not obsolete.

“At present, the global market for such devices is valued in excess of $10 billion, yet it only serves about 10 percent of those who are in need. Because Auricyte offers such a cutting-edge approach to such a widespread ailment -- and because so many people worldwide receive no treatment at all for hearing loss -- the technology that Auricyte is pioneering has unlimited potential.”

Research and development of Auricyte’s 3D Ear platform is expected to take about three years to complete. Koehler, an assistant professor at the IU School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, is the company’s chief science officer. Hashino, a professor in the same department, has more than 20 years of experience in studying development and regeneration of the inner ear. Oxford, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, is executive director of the IU School of Medicine’s Stark Neurosciences Research Institute.

Other companies earning “Best in Show” at Innovation Showcase 2015 include Go Electric, which integrates renewable power, advanced batteries and generators to reduce energy costs; Brand Amper, an employer branding platform aimed at job recruitment via social media; and TribeScribe, a meeting management, facilitation and collaboration tool.

About IURTC and the Spin Up program

IURTC is a not-for-profit agency that helps IU faculty and researchers realize the commercial potential of their discoveries. Its Spin Up program aids companies with promising technologies in their early stages of development. Since 1997, IURTC’s university clients have accounted for more than 2,800 inventions, nearly 1,900 patent applications and more than 80 startup companies.

About Innovate Indiana

IURTC is part of the Innovate Indiana initiative, which engages strategic partners to leverage and advance IU’s intellectual resources and expertise, enhance Indiana’s economic growth and contribute to the overall quality of life for Hoosiers. Indiana University is designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. This recognizes IU’s commitment across all its campuses to being a leading institution in fostering regional economic development.
Karl Koehler and Eri Hashino

Karl Koehler and Eri Hashino

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Media Contacts

Bill W. Hornaday

Innovate Indiana/IU Office of the Vice President for Engagement

  • Innovate Indiana/IU Office of the Vice President for Engagement
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