The Jellyfish Lady. That’s the way the Discovery Channel is describing Dr. Angel Yanagihara of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). The intrepid biomedical researcher is regularly featured in news articles and scientific documentaries, which recognize her as one of the world’s most accomplished experts in box jellyfish.
Dr. Yanagihara has developed an ointment she calls the “sting stopper” to combat the painful stings from box jellies. Recently, while serving on an escort boat, Dr. Yanagihara used her “sting stopper” to help 64 year-old swimmer Diana Nyad make history. Nyad was able to swim solo across the channel from Cuba to Florida, partly due to Yanagihara’s help. The gel allowed Nyad to escape much of the pain which had crippled her previous effort to cross the channel. Like Hawai‘i, that part of the ocean is filled with stinging box jellies.
Seeking cures and a stronger Hawai‘i economy
The Upside Fund, a venture capital fund managed by the UH Foundation in conjunction with the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation and the Research Corporation of the University of Hawai‘i (RCUH) invested $100,000 to help launch Protekai, Inc. Formed by Omar S. Sultan, Protekai, Inc. commercializes intellectual property developed in Dr. Angel Yanagihara’s research laboratory. The economic benefits of this spinoff could be significant for the University and Hawai‘i.
Dr. Yanagihara is a researcher in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology at JABSOM. During the course of more than a decade of work, Dr. Yanagihara has discovered and patented Physalia Fluorescent Proteins. These proteins have the potential to create powerful new biomedical research and diagnostic tools. The market for these proteins is approximately $2.5 billion dollars annually and growing at a double-digit rate.
The Upside Fund’s $100,000 will be used to fund the additional work to isolate and sequence these proteins. Dr. Yanagihara said, “I applaud the vision and initiative of this powerful collaborative effort between Hawai‘i’s entrepreneurial leaders in technology-development, and the UH administration. Intellectual property developed by UH faculty is an inadequately tapped resource with enormous potential for economic benefit.”
If successful, Protekai, Inc. could serve as a model for future UH spinouts.