ACPHS In The News

Collaboration Opens Doors to Innovation

September 18, 2023

Master's student Ankur Divecha and Dr. Haian Zheng collaborate in the laboratory.

Associate Professor Dr. Haian Zheng has a big idea. To make it a reality, he’ll need help from students.  

At this nascent stage of development, Dr. Zheng (pictured in his lab) does not want to reveal too much. But he shared this: His idea involves taking advantage of the unique resources at ACPHS, including his own expertise in botanicals, the bioanalytical specialists in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the biomanufacturing and bioprocessing capabilities at the Stack Family Center for Biopharmaceutical Education and Training (CBET). If successful, his as-yet-to-be-developed team could improve access to research-grade botanical products that pass regulatory muster, a complex and challenging process. He hopes collaborative entrepreneurial efforts will eventually help farmers grow therapeutics or wellness products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  

That’s an idea with potentially enormous impact. The assistance Dr. Zheng will need includes skills and talents in abundance among the ACPHS community – like young scientists and entrepreneurs. But this team also needs the expertise of engineers, lawyers – even farmers – as collaborators and partners.  

To reach out to all the potential partners required, Dr. Zheng will pitch his idea during Innovation Week 2023, a collaboration among ACPHS, Albany Medical College, The Center for Disabilities, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. During Innovation Week, ACPHS students will be able to offer their expertise to his project – or to consider perhaps a dozen other ideas pitched by faculty from participating institutions.   

Here’s how Innovation Week works: For five days beginning Sept. 25, researchers will give five-minute pitches about their ideas in a virtual forum. They will explain a problem they are trying to solve in an attempt to garner interest from talented students who can help advance their ideas. The goal is to get ideas to market, or at least to the point where interest spurs funding to pursue that aim.  

The Innovation Week website explains its strategy this way: “With a region full of students who have bright minds and even brighter passions, it is our belief that a microphone and a platform to feature that research/technology/idea will help form teams and potentially bring academic research closer to commercialization via product/service or business development.” 

For students, this week also provides opportunities to be involved in innovative projects with potentially broad-reaching impacts. If Dr. Zheng is successful, for instance, he could help advance knowledge on botanicals for which there is increasing popular demand and some evidence of effectiveness, but relatively scant clinical research to determine their ultimate usefulness or potential risks. Knowing more could impact patients who live with epilepsy, neurovegetative diseases or the aftereffects of a stroke, for instance.  

“Botanicals are very useful in many ways, as medicines, dietary supplements or food,” Dr. Zheng said. “Right now, most doctors don’t prescribe them. We need to provide more qualified products with good research backed by evidence.”  

Students interested in participating in Innovation Week can get more information on the RPI website or contact Dr. Lewis at