Student Success

Synbiologica records another win

It's win number two for the University of Lethbridge student researcher/entrepreneurs who form the Synbiologica Ltd. team.

Pictured left to right are Mackenzie Coatham, Dr. HJ Wieden (team advisor), Erin Kelly, Harland Brandon and Isaac Ward.

CEO Isaac Ward (third-year neuroscience student), first-year biochemistry student Erin Kelly and chemistry and biochemistry master's students Mackenzie Coatham and Harland Brandon have developed a new method of detecting hormones, and are in the process of patenting their idea.

Their proposed biomedical device technology -- called "Biologically Enhanced Assay in Real-Time" -- is expected to bring next-generation hormone detection to the research, agriculture and medical markets.

In addition to winning $10,000 in the SouthVenture Business Plan Competition in March, the group recently took first place in the Tech Stream side of the Chinook Entrepreneurial Challenge, an annual business planning competition hosted by Community Futures Lethbridge Region.

They received another $10,000 in cash, a one-year lease on space in the tecconnect Centre for New Commerce, a high-tech business incubator operated by Economic Development Lethbridge, plus a host of other in-kind prizes including business consulting from MNP and ActionCOACH, and several thousand dollars worth of media services.

"I am extremely proud of the Synbiologica group for their achievements and wish them continued success," says Dr. Dan Weeks, the U of L's Vice-President (Research). "The U of L is a comprehensive research institution that offers significant research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students. This approach is important as it equips our graduates with the knowledge and ability to thrive in their research and entrepreneurial careers."

The competition evaluates and awards business plans submitted by entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the free business training provided by Community Futures across Southern Alberta. Finalists were chosen from 24 groups that submitted business plans for the challenge.

While he has to be a bit cautious about revealing details because of the patent process – an expected six to eight-month timeline -- Ward said their idea will significantly improve the way in which hormones are detected.

"Hormones – and hormone imbalances – play very important roles in understanding behaviour and mental health, pregnancy as well as development and aging of all populations," says Ward. "We are pursuing new technology for the detection of hormones that provides rapid results that are 93 per cent more cost effective than traditional antibody technology."

The team's market analysis showed diverse applications and projections for growth, with a two to three-year timeline to produce a marketable device. The first test runs of this device will occur this summer at the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) in collaboration with CCBN neuroscience researcher Dr. Gerlinde Metz.

Ward said the team came up with the idea to develop the company and the new biomedical device by using the skills they learned through the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) program.

"The internationally competitive program allows undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience in science," Ward said. U of L teams have claimed several top international honours at past competitions, and three of the Synbiologica entrepreneurs are off to Boston Massachusetts, toward the end of June as advisors to the U of L's high school iGEM team. The university-level competition takes place in October, 2013 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, MA.

"iGEM is run out of a student-operated lab provided by the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry here at the University of Lethbridge and coordinated by Dr. HJ Wieden. We have been encouraged at every turn by our professors and others to move this idea forward, especially by the people at Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF) who promote entrepreneurial engagement from scientific innovation."

Ward cited advisors Dr. Gerlinde Metz (Department of Neuroscience), Dr. HJ Wieden (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), Dr. Roy Golsteyn (Department of Biological Sciences) and Michael Kelly (Erin Kelly's father and Manager of Real Estate and Land Development, City of Lethbridge) as being particularly helpful as they refined their idea.