New Orleans biotech company AxoSim has been awarded two national grants totaling $455,000 to accelerate its health care research.

A $225,000 grant will be used to improve the development of treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also called ALS. The company is getting a National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer grant.

A separate $230,000 grant will be used to ready technology for experiments on the International Space Station to test the effects of microgravity on the human nervous system. The grant is from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. CASIS was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize the use of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. CASIS supports innovations and new discoveries that will improve people's health and well-being. 

AxoSim said it is hiring two employees to carry out the research projects. 

AxoSim said high failure rates of potential new drugs are largely due to a lack of effective models to predict how a drug will work in humans. AxoSim has developed a 3-D, cell-based platform that looks and acts like a real nerve, which will be used in its neurodegenerative disorders research. The so-called nerve-on-a-chip technology that mimics living tissue serves as an alternative to ineffective animal testing and basic 2-D cell models that are used to test drug candidates, the company said.

“The grants from the NSF and CASIS provide critical capital and resources to demonstrate the incredible potential of our technology as models for neurological diseases,” said AxoSim CEO Lowry Curley. “Our groundbreaking platform will be an innovative tool for pharmaceutical companies in developing the next generation of cures for neurodegenerative diseases such as MS.”

In addition, once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant of up to $225,000, it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant up to $750,000. Small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.

“The National Science Foundation supports small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts,” said Barry Johnson, director of the NSF’s division of industrial innovation and partnerships. “We hope that this seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”