Student wows her mentors at Mayo with research achievement

February 16, 2011

There were backslaps and a few high-fives at Mayo Clinic in Arizona last week, when a 20-year-old ASU premedical junior being mentored at the clinic was chosen to present a research paper at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting.

Madeline Grade, a biomedical engineering major who is in the Barrett-Mayo premed scholars program, may be the first undergraduate ever selected for the national honor. The program is a partnership with Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. Madeline Grade Download Full Image

Stage fright on her part would be understandable. Grade will take the platform in front of a hundred or so professional neurologists to present a project on epilepsy which she completed last summer. To the pride of her mentors, she had three abstracts accepted at the AAN, two as platform presentations.

“It’s truly a stunning accomplishment,” said Dr. Ken Mishark, director of the premed scholars program at Mayo. “We’re so proud of Madeline. She has pulled off something that no one we know of has ever done, and the credit goes to her and to her mentors at the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.”

He believes it may be the first time that an undergraduate student has been asked to present at AAN. Very few neurologists have been selected for a platform presentation, he said.

“This is a tremendous honor, as only a very small number of abstracts are selected for platform talks as opposed to poster presentations,” said Dr. Katherine Noe, Mayo neurologist who mentors Grade. “She’s an exceptional individual, extremely bright and a real self-starter.”

Grade also is the second author on a paper just accepted for publication in Epilepsy and Behavior. Even more unusual is that she completed her work in a summer internship.

The tall, slender student is a familiar face at Barrett, where she gives campus tours, and at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, where she is president of the student biomedical engineering society. Her energy level and enthusiasm spill over in all directions: photography, music, running, clubs.

Currently she’s recruiting other ASU students for a synthetic biology team, to compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at MIT in November. She’s also training for a 200-mile relay from Wickenburg to Tempe this month and studying for the MCAT.

The AAN presentation will take her to Honolulu in April, where she’ll present her work on the counseling of women of childbearing age who receive valproic acid, a seizure-treatment medication which can also cause birth defects.

Grade says she loves clinical research, and would like to be both a physician and a researcher. She found her summer internship at Mayo fascinating.

“Research is what drives everything, every change in patient care,” she said. “I went to the hospital every day all summer, and I was so excited about it, it didn’t feel like a job at all. When I went on vacation, I missed it. The total immersion in a hospital environment was really invaluable for me.”

After graduating from Gilbert High School in 2008, Grade had planned to go to Duke or Northwestern, but she was reluctant to incur heavy student debt. When she investigated Barrett and found out about the opportunities for undergraduate research at ASU, she was sold.

“Barrett was a huge part of my decision to come here, and so was the biomedical engineering program. It’s such an exciting time to be at ASU, with all the research that’s going on, all the events and people and experiences.

“All you have to do is e-mail your professors, and they’ll help you get involved in whatever you want to do. Dr. Bill Ditto (director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering) is my hero. He has a ‘let’s do this’ attitude, and he gets you pumped up about trying new things.”

According to Ditto, Grade has emerged as a real student leader in the school, getting other students excited about biomedical engineering.

“Madeline’s enthusiasm, creativity and tremendous work ethic continue to amaze me,” he said. “I expect great things from her as her career progresses.”

Leading venture capital firm visits SkySong to discuss faculty startups

February 17, 2011

“If you want money from a Venture Capital firm, start by asking for advice.”

That’s the advice Sam Kingsland, managing director of San Francisco-based Granite Ventures, provided – for free – to faculty attending a session regarding startup funding options held at SkySong last week. Kingsland and Granite Ventures Principal Brian Panoff came to SkySong at the invitation of Venture">">Venture Catalyst at ASU, which helps faculty, students, alumni and ASU-linked companies launch new startups or accelerate existing ventures. Download Full Image

Kingsland said university research remains the number one area of startup creation in the technology industry, but there is plenty of competition for investor dollars. His firm typically assesses 1,600 investment opportunities each year, closely examines 50 of those, and makes only five to 10 investments annually.

“The key is to be part of the group that gets from 1,600 to 50,” said Kingsland. “And there are proactive steps you can take to make that happen.”

Kingsland’s opinion is that the business plan is an “anachronism” at this point. It’s really all about the PowerPoint presentation.

“Have eight, 20 and 40 slide versions of your pitch,” suggested Kingsland. “Start with the eight-slide version, make your pitch in 20 minutes, then say: ‘Give me a reaction. Is this interesting and relevant to you?’”

“The key is getting out and talking to people who can give good advice, iterating your pitch based on those discussions, and then talking to them again.”

Panoff provided a positive counterweight to recent negative reports regarding the state of venture funding in Arizona.

“There’s plenty of capital available for the best ideas in [the technology] space,” said Panoff. “More than 50 percent of venture investment happens in places that are less than an hour away from ASU. The primary limitation VCs face is time, so that proximity is good.”

For faculty startups, which are typically based on intellectual property generated in campus labs, Kingsland offered a cautionary note.

“There can be real ‘gotchas’ with IP,” said Kingsland. “It’s important to treat IP in a thoughtful, calculated fashion so patentability is preserved.”

At ASU, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), the university’s exclusive intellectual property management and technology transfer organization, works to help">">help ASU researchers protect and commercialize their inventions.

Kingsland and Panoff also described some things faculty should look for from VC firms when they are deciding where to seek investments, including a strong track record of successful companies, stability among the firm’s partners, and relevant experience and networks.

“You’re looking for investors who are active and engaged enough to provide value, but mature enough to avoid micromanagement,” said Kingsland.

After the session, Kingsland and Panoff met with selected Venture Catalyst clients and ASU faculty in a series of six private pitch sessions.

Granite manages over $1 billion in venture capital and has invested in more than 90 private companies. Learn more at


The next Venture Catalyst Faculty Workshop will be held at 8 a.m., Feb. 24.  The topic is how commercialization is different in the capital-intensive cleantech industry.  Email">">Email Barbara O'Connell for more information or to RSVP.