An Eye On: Cambridge Brain Science

on May 27, 2019

Spun out of the lab of renowned neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Owen at Western University, Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) is a leading technology company focused on the assessment of brain function and brain health.

CBS provides scientifically proven tools for the assessment of cognitive function over the web. Tests have been used in over 300 peer-reviewed studies in leading academic publications over the last 25 years. Through CBS’s consumer and research-focused online platforms, they have collected 6 million completed tests, and maintain one of the largest normative databases in the world.

The Company completed a successful fundraising campaign in November 2015 and recently launched a new alpha version of their consumer website, which allows users to track their cognition, compare it to others, and understand how it is affected by their day-to-day activities. The new site will be widely available in early 2017.

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Western Innovation Funds (WIF) Awarded

on May 27, 2019

Supported by the office of the Vice-President (Research), the Western Innovation Fund (WIF) awards are intended to support projects that will advance innovative research development towards application and commercialization. This competition is for one-time projects based on existing research initiatives.

$100K Gordon Osinski
Sample Collection, Annotation, Archiving, Analysis and Distribution System (SCAAAD)

$95K Ting-Yim Lee
Selective Brain Cooling with Cooled Air

$50K Walter Siqueira
Novel Anti-Infective Tools for Treatment of Cariogenic Biofilms

$50K Michael Katchabaw

Sample collection, annotation, archiving, analysis and distribution (SCAAD)

Heading into the field, scientists like Earth Sciences and Physics & Astronomy professor Gordon Osinski load their bags with various data collection and sampling devices, like GPS, cameras and magnetometers. Unfortunately, many of the tools do not communicate well with each other.

This actually increases the workload – and uncertainty – upon returning to the lab, as data is only loosely coupled with actual samples through field notes.

Frustrated by such inconsistencies, Osinski developed the Sample Collection, Annotation, Archiving, Analysis and Distribution (SCAAAD) software system for tablets and phones, which act as central data collectors and organizers. They are used to tag samples with physical chips that encode a reference to all associated data.

The process reduces human error and offers time savings, while also providing powerful post-processing tools to visualize and interact with the data.


To computer scientist Mike Katchabaw, Toccatina is more than a short musical composition designed to demonstrate technique, it’s a tablet-based app he’s helping build to increase engagement with music.

With standard touchscreen gestures – a pinch here, a swipe there – users explore video-recorded musical performances by zooming in, panning out and muting parts of a concert.

Only want to hear the first chair violin? You can use the app to isolate specific audio and visual components, which creates the illusion of moving through the show in real-time. The concept is akin to Google Street View for musical performances, except it seamlessly integrates video and audio.

Katchabaw foresees the app having tremendous potential as a learning tool for professional musicians and music educators, and for simply appreciating music more broadly.

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Proteus Innovation Competition

on May 27, 2019

Hearing technology, pitch perfect

After a four-month wind-up, five finalists got to pitch. One would hit a homerun.

The live spiel was the final step in the inaugural Proteus Innovation Competition, which began with 36 teams and more than 100 competitors vying for the $10,000 grand prize and an opportunity to launch or be involved in a start-up company using a technology developed at one of the city’s research institutions.

Led by TechAlliance, Western – including through Propel, its Research Parks and WORLDiscoveries – and Fanshawe College’s Leap Junction, Proteus invited the London community to develop abstracts and commercialization plans for pre-selected technologies. It also provided mentorship and a pair of workshops designed to help hone proposals.

Five inventions – ranging from architectural design software and brain-cooling technology, to a finger-point digitizer and biodegradable polymers – were selected for the competition. Judges heard one more clearly than the rest.

The winning, five-person team – composed of four Western students and an alumnus – successfully pitched a strategy for OtoTrain, a 3D digital anatomy training tool that helps doctors diagnose diseases of the ear. The technology was developed by Western professors Hanif Ladak and Sumit Agrawal at the school’s National Centre for Audiology.

With sufficient training, physicians can accurately diagnose ear disease, but most medical students and residents aren’t provided with enough repetitions. The OtoTrain software aims to increase the accuracy rate for diagnosis by providing training opportunities in an online simulation environment, which is less costly than using physical models.

“The software will result in improvements in health care, but only if it is widely adopted through a commercialization plan, such as that proposed by this team,” said Ladak, a Medical Biophysics and Electrical and Computer Engineering professor.

Four of the five pitch team members – consisting of Bohan Li, Raphaelle Koerber, Gautam Swain, and Matthew Lucas – now represent ENT Simulation Technologies (team member Harrison Kelly, not pictured), which was spun-off from Ladak’s research.

Since the competition, the team has again experienced the sweet sound of victory, securing the company’s first sale.

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Apollonia Health Inc.

on May 27, 2019

You can almost hear your dentist’s voice as you run your tongue over the front of your teeth. But it’s not just about brushing away plaque.

Some of the fine films covering your teeth protect them, while others can actually be harmful to your health. Given they can contain a hodgepodge of viruses, bacteria and germs, some biofilms may actually contribute to, or increase your risk of, oral and systemic infections.

Western Dentistry professor Walter Siqueira, who is one of Canada’s only dental clinician-scientists conducting salivary proteome research, is trying to find a balance between the good and bad microorganisms in your mouth.

He and his team have developed potential anti-biofilm agents that use peptides derived from bacteria and acquired enamel pellicle (AEP) – a protein film that forms on tooth enamel to protect it from acids. The technology uses molecules called chitosan to deliver novel peptides and fusion products to maximize anti-microbial and anti-biofilm properties. They also help treat oral disease and protect enamel.

The trick is to ensure these tools target the bacteria causing tooth decay, rather than those protecting our teeth.

“We continue to advance efforts to develop a synthetic peptide or protein that possesses all the protective characteristics of AEP that can be used in a toothpaste or mouthwash,” Siqueira says.

The technology has been licensed to Apollonia Health Inc., a Canadian company focused on commercializing innovative oral hygiene products that can safely and selectively eliminate cavity-causing bacteria.

It’s a research partnership worth smiling about.

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Innovators of the year

on May 27, 2019

Eva Turley and Len Luyt

Controlling the body’s natural regenerative processes takes a team effort – just ask Eva Turley and Len Luyt.

The two are co-winners of the second-annual WORLDiscoveries Vanguard Innovator of the Year award for their work with Novare Pharmaceuticals, which continues to advance RHAMM-based (Receptor for Hyaluronan Mediated Motility) technologies. Both are professors at Western and scientists at Lawson.

Turley first discovered, characterized and cloned RHAMM – the protein that regulates cell movement and stem cell differentiation – during the early 1980s. In the process, she established that treatments blocking RHAMM may moderate inflammation, reduce scarring and provide the most efficient manner of stimulating subcutaneous fat growth.

Her work has prospered from a longstanding collaboration with Luyt, who is an expert in developing compounds that target RHAMM. The two believe their findings will help them promote healing after burns and surgical wounds, and treat various tissue-related ailments, including osteoarthritis, lung fibrosis and lipodystrophies.

Novare – founded on Turley’s pioneering work – opened a research and validation centre within the London Regional Cancer Program two years ago to further tap into the duo’s expertise, and to develop RHAMM-based treatments for various diseases. Since that time, the company has provided significant research funding to Lawson and created numerous full-time jobs in London.

Turley is now Novare’s Chief Scientific Officer and Luyt serves as a Lead Scientist, directing his research team as they design and characterize hundreds of novel, proprietary peptides that form the basis of the company’s drug development pipeline. These peptides are subsequently screened in Turley’s lab for therapeutic potential for cartilage development, inflammation and tissue scarring.

“The partnership with Novare is a testament to the value placed by industry on these two scientists.” said Kirk Brown, Manager, Business Development for WORLDiscoveries.

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Celebrating success in innovation

on May 27, 2019

As the technology transfer and business development office for Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute and Robarts Research Institute, WORLDiscoveries® is pleased to present the annual Vanguard Awards.

This celebration recognizes local researchers, who, through partnership with WORLDiscoveries, have achieved various market-readiness milestones.

2016 Vanguard Award winners

Innovator of the Year

Leonard Luyt
Eva Turley
Shawn Li (Nominee)
George Nakhla (Nominee)

Patent Issued Award

Kevin Burgess
Paul Charpentier
Donal Downey
Hesham El Naggar
Meckkey El Sharnouby
Kenneth Esguerra
Aaron Fenster
Martin Frasch
Lori Gardi
Jin Jiang
Qingfeng Li
Leonard Luyt
Ruth Martin
Bryan Richardson
Julie Theurer
Eva Turley
Rajiv Varma

License Agreement Signed

Xuan Cao
Shanghuan Feng
Rajesh Gupta
Matthew Hebb
Tomonori Kaneko
Shawn Li
Walter Siqueira
Charles Xu
Sean Yuan
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ecommCelebrating success in innovation

Waste not, want not

on May 27, 2019

To some, it’s organic waste that will end up in a landfill. To three Western engineers, it’s as good as fuel.

Which means savings: to the environment and the bottom line.

George Nakhla, with fellow inventors Hisham Hafez and Hesham El Naggar, have developed a novel technology that uses microorganisms to transform organic waste into ethanol, hydrogen, methane and other valuable products for industrial use.

Their integrated bioreactor clarifier system uses a patented, two-stage process that relies on biodegradation – disintegrating materials using bacteria or other biological means – to recover energy from, and give a second life to, what was once considered trash.

The work helps reduce the environmental impact of a variety of waste products, while providing an eco-friendly way of manufacturing gases and fuels required for a wide range of industrial uses. Ethanol, as an example, has traditionally been produced from grains like corn, but this new technology eliminates the need to divert crops from the food supply for biofuel production.

The innovation, Nakhla says, is really in the process.

“If you can ferment C5 sugar, you don’t have to use corn to produce ethanol,” he said. “You can use woodchips, forestry products and waste from pulp and paper mills and ferment this to produce ethanol.”

The technology has been further developed through a co-funded project with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Collaborative Research and Development Grants (NSERC-CRD) program and Toronto-based GreenField Speciality Alcohols Inc. The system gives GreenField a competitive advantage for selling its processing technology and producing in-demand industrial products.

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Precision Proteomics

on May 27, 2019

Looking at the big picture of a disease like cancer often requires you break it down into some of its smallest elements.

Just ask Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Shawn Li, who has spent years closely examining interactions between hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of different proteins as a collective to better understand how they function. Why proteins?

These large molecules play a significant role in cellular growth and development, and are critical to delivering treatments. With this knowledge, Li can better understand how cancer forms and spreads, how it develops resistance to chemotherapy, and hopefully develop new therapeutics to overcome resistance.

“Once we understand the network of proteins and how changes to the network lead to disease, we can then design molecules that can intervene or interrupt it, reduce its impact or collapse it altogether,” Li says.

Much of his world-class team’s work has focused on modular domains – which are subunits of a protein – and, specifically, the SH2 domain, which works with enzymes called tyrosine kinases to control cellular functions. By altering the activity of other proteins, tyrosine kinases act as master switches in the cell. Abnormal activities are associated with many forms of cancer.

The Li lab has deciphered the specificity of the 120 or so SH2 domains encoded by the human genome, providing a framework for understanding how they may team up with tyrosine kinases to control reproduction or survival of cells.

“We are developing synthetic proteins called superbinders based on the SH2 domain, which can be used to profile or block the activity of tyrosine kinases,” Li adds. “We think these superbinders will eventually be useful in developing better precision and personalized treatments for cancer and other diseases.”

Last year, Li founded Precision Proteomics Inc., to which his superbinder technology has been exclusively licensed. The technology has also caught the eye of Sino Western and Novatio Ventures, two life science investment firms that have invested in Precision and are providing executive management support to the company.

It’s a big step for a molecule that’s microscopic in size.

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Planting an idea for a greener future

on May 27, 2019

It’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself talking about lignocellulosic biomass at a cocktail party. Thanks to Western engineer, Charles Xu, though, you may soon find yourself drinking from something made of it.

Packed with chemical energy, lignin is the structural material that makes plants crunchy and gives wood its strength. Long considered a waste product left over by agricultural and forestry industries, Xu uses it to create bio-oils he hopes will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in the production of plastics and resins.

He sees additional applications for the pharmaceutical and bio-fuel industries.

“Given the impact of fossil fuels on our planet, it is important we focus our research strengths on developing technologies that convert raw biomass into carbon-neutral, energy-rich commodities,” Xu says.

The biggest advantage of shifting to lignocellulosic biomass is that it’s the most abundant renewable carbon source on the planet. We have long talked about creating green – in this case, quite literally – technologies from plant-based products, but we’ve only just begun to efficiently create viable bio-oil. It’s beginning to offer attractive alternatives to expensive and toxic petrochemicals.

Partners around the world are taking notice.

Last year, Chinese company, Tianjin Tian-Ren Shi-Ji Tech, licensed Xu’s unique technology, which, unlike those of his competitors, operates under relatively low temperature and low pressure to create a carbon-neutral bio-oil that is simple and efficient to process. The key to the technology is that it uses inexpensive alkali catalysts and recycles all solvents back into the system, minimizing production costs.

It’s proof you can save money and the environment at the same time.

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Innovation is critical

on May 27, 2019

Western Medical Innovation Fellowship Program

University prepares you to think critically. But what’s the next step?

For a select few, chosen to participate in the new Western Medical Innovation Fellowship program last year, it was an opportunity to sharpen this skill to a fine point so they could evaluate options and carve new paths that improve medical practice.

The initiative, adapted from an American model designed to drive innovation and improve healthcare outcomes, enjoyed a successful first year at the University in 2015. The inaugural cohort saw three fellows develop practical solutions and technologies for medical needs they identified after consulting with those who would eventually be putting them to use.

Over the course of the year, Dr. John Matheson, Asha Parekh and Ali Tavallaei met with clinicians and scientists to identify and evaluate more than 60 medical needs. They decided to focus their attention on 10 high-impact inventions they hope to license to medical device companies in the near future. Another has the potential to form the basis of a spin-off company.

The team also submitted two of the inventions to the FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust) pitch competition, where both were selected among six finalists. One of them – a technology developed for urostomy patients with Dr. Nick Power – brought home the $50,000 grand prize, winning both the inaugural Ernsting Entrepreneurship Award and the Audience Choice Award.

“As a surgeon, many priorities compete for my attention,” Power said. “This talented team not only lent time and expertise, but helped give the technology a better chance to improve patients’ everyday lives.”

Similar programs aspiring to mold innovation leaders and create medical technologies have existed in the United States for 15 years, but they’re new to Canada. Western’s program partners with the University of Minnesota, which puts fellows through a five-week educational boot camp that teaches strategies related to innovation, prototyping, intellectual property, regulatory affairs and business strategy.

“We hope to introduce and prepare scholars for the innovation pipeline sooner in their careers and to bring together talent with technology that provides health and financial benefits for Canadians,” said WORLDiscoveries Executive Director Lisa Cechetto, who co-led the program with Western Medical Biophysics and Surgery professor Matthew Teeter. “We really feel we can continue to improve the Canadian economy by training, developing and retaining top minds in the country.”

Fellows are subsequently immersed into London’s hospitals, where they shadow clinicians in operating rooms, clinics and imaging suites to identify unmet needs, which they take with them to begin research and development on new devices and software.

Now that the year-long program has wrapped-up, each of the initial fellows has used their experience to chart a different future: Matheson received one of only six orthopedic residency positions for international medical degree holders in Canada, and will stay at Western. Parekh and Tavallaei have secured employment in applied research positions in London and Toronto. Tavallaei will also continue using the skills he gained to develop his own startup company.

It’s only year one, but we’re already seeing evidence critical thinking and innovation can improve critical care.

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