on May 29, 2019

An international conference on Epigenetics in May not only brought together dozens of researchers from across Canada and around the globe, it also signaled London is on its way to becoming a leading centre of research in the burgeoning Epigenetics field.

The conference, aptly entitled, Epigenetics, Eh!, featured Canadian and international speakers discussing the latest advances in the field. Epigenetics is the study of the genetic instructions used to assemble proteins into living organisms such as the human body. Translated from the Latin to mean “beyond genetics,” it is a field poised for enormous growth, in Canada and around the world, with the potential for life-altering health and environmental findings.

Over the last five years, the Children’s Health Research Institute (CHRI), a division of the Lawson Health Research Institute, has become one of the world’s leading Epigenetics research centres. Dr. Victor Han, CHRI Director, has been instrumental in attracting researchers and developing a network of expertise.

One of the goals of the conference was to begin work toward creating a collaborative Canadian Epigenetics Research Network – known as Epigenetics Canada – from coast to coast, a step already taken by researchers in the U.S. and Europe.

WORLDiscoveries® played an active role in organizing the conference and in helping to establish London as a leading centre of research. With more than 20 Epigenetics researchers already in place across the city, the goal of making London a hub of Canadian Epigenetics research has reached critical mass, thanks to the cooperative work of CHRI, Lawson, Western and WORLDiscoveries®.

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AMM Showcase

on May 29, 2019

More than 150 people attended the first-ever Ontario Regional Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Showcase October 13.

The event gave Ontario manufacturers an opportunity to learn about numerous commercial-ready technologies developed by researchers across Southwestern Ontario. Co-hosted by WORLDiscoveries and the C4 Consortium, the event also celebrated the new home of Surface Science Western at Western’s Research Park, tours of which were available all day.

“It was a tremendous success,” says Patrick Therrien, WORLDiscoveries Business Development Manager for science and engineering, and organizer of the AMM Showcase. “Of the 150 or so participants, about 43 per cent were from industry and another 43 per cent were from various universities. That’s a great turnout.”

In addition to Western, researchers came from the University of Waterloo, McMaster University, the University of Guelph and the NRC.

  • Among the technologies from Western researchers being promoted were:
    A novel method of combining nanocomposite synthesis and drying into one step to reduce time, labour, waste and worker exposure to nanoparticles. With tunable chemical and physical properties, the nanocomposites have a wide range of industrial and household applications.
  • A unique use of magnetorheological fluids that change viscosity in the presence of a magnetic field, allowing them to transfer force and torque. By controlling the strength of the magnetic field, it is possible to control the torque in an actuation mechanism connecting a typical motor to a load. The approach eliminates the need for multiple motors, gears and sensors.

“This was our first Showcase event, but it won’t be our last,” says Therrien.

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Software success

on May 29, 2019

From automated e-commerce transactions to full website development and deployment, WORLDiscoveries has a wealth of knowledge in online commercialization. It has delivered many products and services to users around the world over the web, as well as establishing an online presence for spin-off companies and other ventures. Over the last year, WORLDiscoveries has also applied those skills to itself, dramatically expanding its own website.

The upgraded WORLDiscoveries® website now serves as a gateway and host for dozens of available technologies. It enables searches by sector and other criteria, making it easier than ever to find a technology that fills a given need.

Fabian Folias came on board in 2010 and spearheaded the transformation of the website.

“Now that we have our new site established, we have begun to leverage social media in marketing our technologies to wider audiences,” says Jonathan Deeks, Inventions & Patents Manager.

WORLDiscoveries is no stranger to online commercialization. “We’ve been working in this area for some time and already have multiple technologies that are distributed entirely online,” says Deeks.

The Virtual Historian, for example, is a web-based educational program for teaching Canadian history in English and French. It was created by a team at the Althouse Faculty of Education at Western and places students in virtual environments during crucial periods of Canadian history – The Dieppe Raid in 1942 or the October Crisis of 1970, among others.

WORLDiscoveries provided development funding for the project, along with IP registration and protection. It then marketed to, and licensed, schools and school boards across the country while continuing to manage the website and user accounts.

A different approach has been used for the Employee Commitment Survey developed at Western. It is marketed, purchased and then downloaded entirely online through ‘Flintbox’, a third party web-based technology transfer portal – a very cost-effective approach for a product such as this survey. It has remained the most downloaded product on Flintbox of any Southwestern Ontario university for several years now.
Online Single-Pilot Resource Management (OSRM) is an interactive training program for general aviation pilots on a variety of safety topics. With help from WORLDiscoveries® in funding the simulations used in the program, creating a full website and ongoing marketing efforts, the program is being used by pilots around the world – ultimately improving pilot safety.

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on May 29, 2019

DSL is now industry standard for fitting infant hearing aids. WORLDiscoveries continues to manage the successful Desired Sensation Level (DSL) software product which is now the industry standard for fitting infant hearing aids in North America and parts of Europe.

More than 20 companies worldwide have licensed the product from the University of Western Ontario. In the United States, around 80 per cent of paediatric audiologists use the DSL fitting method. It’s also the preferred paediatric fitting method in the United Kingdom and in Germany, says Dr. Souzan Armstrong, Business Development Manager for WORLDiscoveries.

The DSL method of fitting hearing aids relies on data describing comfortable listening levels for speech. Researchers at Western’s Child Amplification Laboratory developed the first version of DSL more than a decade ago. It was the first published computer-assisted method for fitting hearing aids in young children. Because young children and infants cannot communicate with the audiologists fitting the hearing aid, the software is a valuable tool to help them hear.

In the mid-’90s, Dr. Richard Seewald was recognized for his pioneering work in DSL. Dr. Susan Scollie is now the Principal Investigator with the Child Amplification Laboratory. Dr. Scollie created many of the algorithms used in the latest version of the product. She says that she and her team, including Sheila Moodie and Marlene Bagatto, are now focused on validating the product’s effectiveness in clinical use.

While DSL was developed specifically for children and infants with hearing loss, Dr. Scollie explains that the product has modifications for adult patients as well.

And both target markets are growing. Because of the government’s push for universal screening, more infants are being diagnosed with hearing loss. Only about 25 per cent of adults who need hearing aids actually use them. “Proper fitting is the issue,” says Dr. Armstrong.

Dr. Scollie hopes that more adults will continue to use hearing aids if their initial experience is positive. To boost that initial experience, Dr. Scollie along with National Centre for Audiology investigators, Prudence Allen, Paula Folkeard, Vijay Parsa and Ewan Macpherson, have partnered with hearing technology manufacturers to help test product prototypes. Using an army of local volunteers, the Translational Research Unit conducts rapid clinical trials. The unit has already completed six trials this year.

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FGF9 grows cells, business

on May 29, 2019

The Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 (FGF9), discovered Dr. Geoffrey Pickering, is brimming with potential – both for heart disease patients and for business.

WORLDiscoveries has patented the factor for this use and is currently looking for an investment partner to help bring FGF9 to market, says Bryce Pickard, Business Development Manager for WORLDiscoveries.

Using FGF9, Dr. Pickering has found a way to stimulate the growth of stabilizer cells around the newly formed blood vessels, making them stronger and longer lasting.

“It definitely has spin-out potential,” he says.

Dr. Pickard sees huge potential in Dr. Pickering’s research because it could be used to treat a wide variety of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. The research builds on existing angiogenesis therapies which help the body regrow blood vessels, providing oxygen to the surrounding tissue. The problem with these therapies is that the regrown vessels don’t last. Using FGF9, Dr. Pickering has found a way to stimulate the growth of stabilizer cells around the newly formed blood vessels, making them stronger and longer lasting.

Although he’s “demonstrated remarkable success” in small animal trials, Dr. Pickering has not completed clinical trials yet. The next step in the research is integrating FGF9 into a delivery strategy for select conditions that require new blood vessels to be formed and to last.

Because FGF9 is a naturally occurring compound rather than a synthetic drug, it will be readily accepted by the body, says Dr. Pickering, noting the medical advantages.

On the other hand, Dr. Pickard says the technology may still be marketed as a drug therapy, demonstrating the business perspective that, together with solid research and innovation, have helped WORLDiscoveries grow.

As both a doctor and a researcher, Dr. Pickering sees the value of being associated with WORLDiscoveries.

“Even though I’m vitally aware of vascular disease and how it impacts patients on a day-by-day basis, bridging the findings that we have in the lab to those patients is just not something that happens naturally,” says Dr. Pickering.

“We need the team. We need the business experts integrated in there. Without that, we’re simply disseminating the information, hoping that someone else will pick it up who has a business team associated with them.”

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Bio Electricity?

on May 29, 2019

Adapting the power grid to accept renewable power, store it and distribute the electricity close to where it was generated, is part of the quest for a Canadian Smart-Grid.

Green energy, from solar or wind installations, has flourished, particularly under Ontario’s Feed-in- Tariff (FIT) program. Glen Smeltzer, an Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR) at WORLDiscoveries®, explains the core barrier. “One challenge with renewable sources of power is that they are intermittent,” he says. “You get solar power only in the day – it drops off suddenly with cloud cover – and wind is also variable.”

Central generation – from fossil sources such as coal – is reliable and predictable – but also creates pollution. Large-scale dependence by utilities on renewable power sources will need technologies to “smooth” and store this intermittent power. Hydrogen is one of the most promising intermediate power carriers, but its efficient conversion to electricity remains a challenge.

Dimitre Karamanev, Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Western, has applied the highly efficient respiration process in living organisms, to design and patent the BioGenerator, a new device that uses hydrogen to ‘biologically’ generate electricity. “Living things ‘chemically reduce’ oxygen to generate energy,” he says. “In nature this process is very fast and efficient. We are using living microorganisms, naturally occurring in the acidic liquid from abandoned mines, to produce electricity in a very efficient way.”

He says that incorporating biological energy conversion into the Smart-Grid gives us some unique benefits. “The microorganisms live in a bioreactor, and help us vary our power output on demand,” says Karamanev. “This can be very useful to stabilize power from intermittent renewables, and very efficient for storing power using hydrogen.”

Karamanev says the BioGenerator is cheaper to operate than internal combustion engines or turbines because of the speed and efficiency of microbial respiration. “It is one of the most efficient ways to convert hydrogen to electricity,” says Karamanev.

WORLDiscoveries is working with Karamanev to commercialize the BioGenerator technology and create a spinoff company. It has helped raise capital, add management and facilities, and engaged key partners in the platform’s transition from lab tested to market ready.

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Barrier coatings

on May 29, 2019

By using ultraviolet light to cure a coating of phosphonium ionic liquids, Professor Paul Ragogna has discovered an interesting and effective way of protecting electronics and other items from water and oil penetration.

The barrier coating is clear, flexible and robust. Most importantly, it is devised to be both super-hydrophobic and superoleophobic, meaning it is extremely resistant to both water and oil.

“We spread our compound on something and then pass it under U.V. light on a conveyor belt for about five seconds,” says Prof. Ragogna, a synthetic chemist. “That’s all it takes for the coating to turn into a plastic that is flexible and highly resistant to water and oil.”

The potential for the technology is almost limitless, given the number of electronic devices operating in the world, both for personal and industrial use. The beauty of the Ragogna approach is how easy it is to “activate” the coating with U.V. light.

WORLDiscoveries has been working with Ragogna to bring the technology to the attention of the market.

“WORLDiscoveries is very helpful in determining whether a piece of research may have commercial appeal,” Ragogna says. “If they think there is, they go out and find companies that might find it appealing. It’s a very valuable service.”

In this case, WORLDiscoveries brought the project to the attention of Cytec Industries, a global specialty chemical and material company that is a world leader in U.V. curable coatings. It already uses phosphorus based chemicals in many of its processes and is a top producer of phosphines and phosphonium ionic liquids.

“There is still a lot of research left to do, but it’s quite possible Cytec will help us take this to market after we meet some specific benchmarks in our research,” Ragogna says.

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Nighttime solar?

on May 29, 2019

As unbelievable as it sounds, it may soon be possible to utilize photovoltaic (PV) solar plants around the clock and smarten up the Canadian grid.

PV solar power plants have a massive capital investment in inverter equipment that sits idle all night and on cloudy days. Inverters take the raw green energy and transform the current from DC to AC so it can be used by consumers.

Now, researchers at Western have discovered a costeffective controller to help major utilities manage large-scale distributed generation systems – and create new revenue opportunities for PV solar and wind plants.

Rajiv Varma is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the recipient of a $6 million grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Varma says the Nighttime PV Solar Farm Controller has to function like a Static Synchronous Compensator (STATCOM) – a key power system component. STATCOMs provide voltage regulation and enhance transmission capacity.

Excess inverter capacity at solar farms can be tapped for this function. “This is a great opportunity for matching the need of wind farms for voltage control – particularly at night when the wind blows hardest,” he says. “And the wind farms can be up to 20-25 kilometres away from the solar farm.”

By turning an idle inverter into a STATCOM, Varma says the cost savings are huge. “The PV solar farm controller card is $100,000 compared to about $5-10 million in STATCOM equipment,” he says.

WORLDiscoveries has filed for two U.S. patents and an international patent for the controller.

London Hydro is opening a grid-connected PV solar simulation lab at Hydro headquarters with Western to design, develop and test real-scale (10 kW) nighttime solar technology systems– a first in Canada.

Vinay Sharma, Hydro’s CEO, is certain this facility will hasten other patentable innovations. “It is enabling our power system to interconnect and make us grid smart so we can accept power from wherever it comes from,” says Sharma.

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EVASHI – Enhanced skincare product

on May 29, 2019

Given a choice, most people would pick a face cream over a needle, to achieve smooth, youthful skin.

Now that is possible, thanks to research work done by Dr. Eva Turley, a Scientist at the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP) of the Lawson Health Research Institute and a Professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Oncology at Western, who is recognized globally as an expert in hyaluronan biology.

Hyaluronan is a common acid found in most human tissue, particularly the skin, and is the primary ingredient in injectable fillers like Restylane. As the skin ages, the hyaluronan coating thins out and contributes to sagging tissue, fine lines, loss of hydration and healthy glow.

Turley has worked with hyaluronan for decades, mostly in breast and prostate cancer research. “I was interested in cell migration/spreading of tumours and how hyaluronan works in tumours,” she says. “Hyaluronan was known for keeping joints flexible but no one was looking at its biological effects on cells.”

Turley says the skin is a natural barrier with important immune functions. WORLDiscoveries has filed for a patent on a process to modify hyaluronan so that it readily crosses the skin and is captured and retained as a coat around the outer epidermal and lower dermal skin cells. “This is a platform technology with potential for numerous medical applications and the biology behind it lends itself to numerous cosmetic applications as well” says Kirk Brown, Lawson’s Manager of Business Development at WORLDiscoveries® who has licensed the cosmetic uses to Evashi Inc., a company formed by Turley with Dr. Shelendra Joshi and Kay Joshi. The Joshi’s also own and operate the Cherryhill MediSPA and Skin Care Centre already offering Evashi products to clients.

This transdermal technology enhances skin health, hydration and “glow” and also opens up a very promising opportunity for transdermal protein delivery – a ray of hope for medications to be given by patch instead of needle.

Turley’s research may also contribute to less pain and skin damage for breast cancer patients receiving radiation. “The cream reduces edema and nerve irritation,” she says. “Dr. Francisco Perera a Radiation Oncologist at LRCP is designing a clinical trial to see if the cream reduces dermatitis after radiation.”

WORLDiscoveries is also working with Turley on commercialization of the medical uses of hyaluranon. “Dr. Turley’s medical research at Lawson fits with our long history of translating research discoveries into patient care,” says Brown. “WORLDiscoveries license deal with Evashi for cosmetics is a neat example of how we transform local research into economic opportunities.”

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Enable Imaging Technologies

on May 29, 2019

WORLDiscoveries created another company this year – based on Dr. Aaron Fenster’s breakthrough work in 3D ultrasound imaging.

Enable Imaging Technologies was established in February to help commercialize the new applications of 3D ultrasound for monitoring of cardiovascular disease. Sandy Vascotto, Head of Western Life Sciences Group for WORLDiscoveries, says that the company hopes to submit the prototype for regulatory approval by July 2012.

The new 3D technology gives doctors a better way to identify patients with increased risk for stroke. It also means that doctors can accurately monitor patients who are being treated for cardiovascular disease. Both doctors and patients can see a picture of the arteries and know whether the plaque is increasing or decreasing in response to treatment.

As part of its Asian initiative, WORLDiscoveries® helped to raise the initial investment capital for Enable Imaging Technologies in China. Enable’s five staff members in London are now tackling the prototype development work while their colleagues in the Beijing office search for buyers. Vascotto believes the market for the product will also be found in Asia. “It’s a sales and service-based company satisfying a need of being able to bring low-cost imaging tools to the masses,” says Vascotto.

Due to our stable intellectual property laws, Canada is the preferred country for any propriety assets the company has or may generate. That’s why it makes sense for the research and development to be done here, says Vascotto.

Like money, skill and innovation have no borders. But Dr. Fenster chooses to remain in London with Western and WORLDiscoveries®. “… all the elements are in place here,” he says. “We have the infrastructure, we have outstanding students, and we have scientists, colleagues, and physicians who work with Lead ing ed ge sp in-offs us closely in testing our technology. So that combination is quite unique in the world.”

Commercialization of his research is an exciting reality for Dr. Fenster. “For my students, it’s very satisfying because their research ends up helping patients with heart disease or cancer,” he says. “Their thesis work doesn’t just sit on the shelf, but it actually is useful.” Dr. Fenster currently has nine PhD. students and one Masters’ student working with him at Robarts Research Institute.

Dr. Fenster is proud to see his concept realized and to help doctors accurately diagnose prostate cancer.

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