Out of academia and into the world

05/14/2024

by Holly Riddle

Penn State excels at connecting research and industry, allowing brilliant minds to commercialize their findings, sometimes benefiting the entire world in the process. Ali Kazemi is a doctoral candidate at Penn State researching plasma medicine and his career thus far is an example of this. Though entrenched in academia, Kazemi is also an entrepreneur, and his startup, Fourth State Therapeutics boasts a flagship product known as the Plasma Patch, which can help treat dermatological conditions like acne or eczema.

Thanks to Penn State resources — both research-wise and from an entrepreneurial standpoint — Kazemi is attempting to bring the Plasma Patch, as well as other cold plasma-based devices for biomedical applications, to market. This summer, he’s participating in the Invent Penn State Summer Founders Program, at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, in order to further this effort.

We recently caught up with Kazemi to learn more.

What’s your background and how did that lead to you creating Fourth State Therapeutics? 

I have been researching this new field called plasma medicine for about seven or eight years now. We’re looking into this interesting technology, called cold plasma. For clarity, this is not blood plasma; I'm talking about the fourth state of matter. In the 90s, scientists discovered that cold plasma has biomedical applications, and this field has seen tremendous growth in these two, almost three, decades that have passed. We have been working on designing and testing new biomedical devices based on this core plasma technology, and we really want to see our work make it out to out of academia and into industry, improving people's lives.

For the average layperson, what exactly is it that Fourth State Therapeutics will do and/or offer?

Without going into the scientific details, cold plasma technology is being researched for a lot of applications in medicine… Biomedical applications are being researched mainly in the dermatology field…and, honestly, they're actually making their way to the clinic. In fact, there are a few devices based on this technology that are already in the clinic. Most of them were developed in Europe and Asia, and because of that, the treatments that are based on these devices are also more popular over there. The goal of Fourth State Therapeutic is to bring more advanced versions of the devices that are already in the clinic, and improved versions and their great potential, initially, to the American public and then eventually to the world.

Tell us about how the Plasma Patch works.

The plasma patch is being researched for use on acne [and] eczema. Some of the applications that already exist in the clinic are focused on wound healing. I have seen some older applications on acne scar removal, but not acne itself. So, we are researching these applications and we are seeing some promise, although there's still a lot of research to be done.

The way they work, these devices generate a certain type of chemistry, let's call it. These are very reactive chemical species; these chemical species are already working within our bodies. They're involved in several processes inside the body. We have seen that they can have antibacterial effects, they can have anti-inflammatory effects, and they can even improve cell proliferation. So, the question really is figuring out the best mode of application or delivery, which our device design is.

What led to you applying for the Summer Founders Program?

We wanted to start testing our entrepreneurial ideas, and bring our research to the clinic and to the industry… We started doing research and Penn State has great resources for this. We came across Summer Founders, [which] is a great startup incubator program. They provide funding, guidance and assistance to startups like us. They have a history of helping successful startups and educating them, seeing them through to the market.

What are you hoping to get out of the Summer Founders Program this summer?

Four State Therapeutics, although it's an excellent one, is still a concept. We want to fully test the business aspect and evaluate the startup concept that we have. We want to establish a successful business model [and] a game plan for the next few years. We want to use the expertise and experience that the Summer Founders mentors are bringing to the table, which is, in my personal opinion, the most valuable part of this program, and educate ourselves on how to make sure that this is a successful startup.

we really want to see our work make it out to out of academia and into industry, improving people's lives.

To what degree do you feel like Penn State's resources — both entrepreneurial resources and resources that translate research to industry — have helped you thus far?  

Penn State is a wonderful place to do research and it's a wonderful place to bring science and technology to commercialization. In my opinion, throughout my journey, I've had honestly infinite support from my advisors, whether that's for my research and pursuit of science or for my entrepreneurial goals. There are a lot of programs offered at Penn State for cultivating entrepreneurial spirit… There are great resources for students to familiarize themselves with entrepreneurship and begin their entrepreneurial journeys.

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