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5 innovators to watch in R.I.’s life sciences industry

Dr. Jack A. Elias (right) is the founder of Ocean Biomedical, Brown University's first bioscience "spinoff."Courtesy of Ocean Biomedical

Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi recently introduced a proposal to create a quasi-public agency for life sciences. It would coordinate life science initiatives for the state, potentially investing in Rhode Island-based companies, and promoting economic growth and workforce development.

In the meantime, Rhode Island’s life sciences are already starting preclinical spinoffs, creating apps for specific patient populations, and conducting groundbreaking medical research.

Here’s a look at a few we’ve featured recently in Globe Rhode Island’s Innovators Q&A column.

1. An app that’s trying to understand your pain.

The SOMA app, developed by psychiatry and human behavior professor Dr. Frederike Petzschner is designed to directly support individuals with chronic pain, and it gathers data that could help researchers predict how someone’s pain becomes chronic. Petzschner said users spend only a few minutes per day logging their pain, and the app can be used for both acute injuries and chronic pain. Read the Q&A here.

Dr. Marie Mortreux, a professor at the University of Rhode Island.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

2. One researcher’s quest to study the health consequences astronauts face.


When an astronaut is launched into space, the lack of gravity can wreak havoc on the muscular, skeletal, and metabolic systems. It can subject astronauts to significant muscle and bone weakness that can prevent them from standing when they return to Earth. Dr. Marie Mortreux, a nutrition professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Metabolism and Muscle Biology Lab, is examining the issue through a series of studies partly funded by NASA. Read the Q&A here.

3. Startup aims to reach pediatric anxiety patients where they are.

Braver is a new behavioral health tech startup looking to break down the barriers to accessing mental health help for kids, while freshening up the oldest form of treatment for anxiety: facing your fears. The founders, Dr. Brady Case and Dr. Abbe Garcia, previously worked at Bradley Hospital. Read the Q&A here.


Braver's CEO Dr. Brady Case (right), a child psychiatrist and researcher, and chief clinical officer Dr. Abbe Garcia, a clinical psychologist and pediatric researcher. MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

4. From leading Brown University’s medical school to ringing the NASDAQ bell: This founder is helping researchers bring therapies to patients.

The “valley of death” in the biomedical industry is what keeps Dr. Jack A. Elias up at night. A former dean of medicine at Brown University and department chair at the Yale School of Medicine, Elias believes the United States does a “bang-up job” spending billions of dollars to support medical research. But after a research team or university makes a ground-breaking discovery, Elias says the country doesn’t do nearly as well getting a therapeutic out of a lab and directly to patients. His solution is Ocean Biomedical, a preclinical biotech company he founded recently that’s known as Brown’s first bioscience “spinoff” that could help move therapies off lab shelves and into the private sector. Read the Q&A here.

A doctor performing a spinal tap on an infant using the SmolTap device.Smoltap

5. A new solution for medical teams to perform a spinal tap on an infant.

Providence-based SmolTap, has a new device, almost like a cradle or seat, that positions and holds an infant in place during a lumbar puncture. The company is led by Robert Cooper, who has worked on the business side of the life sciences for three decades. Read the Q&A here.

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.