U of A celebrates commercial potential of research

Researchers obtained nine patents and started up 11 spinoff companies last year through TEC Edmonton.

A new type of neuromuscular electrical stimulation designed to better treat people with spinal cord injuries was one of nine patents, along with 11 spinoff companies, that were celebrated during TEC Edmonton's Innovation Awards yesterday.

The awards recognize University of Alberta researchers whose work has resulted in the creation of new knowledge which, with TEC Edmonton's assistance, transfers to wider society for the benefit of people everywhere.

The new therapy, developed by U of A neuroscientist Dave Collins and his research team, promises to increase the activity in neural circuits that control movement that remains intact after a spinal cord injury, when used with intense physical therapy programs.

Collins explained it involves moving the electric stimulus to the reflex pathways, which has the advantage of stimulating the muscle via the spinal cord.

"This is a much more natural way to generate contractions because you're using the spinal cord rather than just activating the muscle," he said, adding an exciting aspect of this work is that reactivating the pathways that control movement after an injury also strengthens them.

"In some cases, reactivating these pathways improves voluntary control of their muscles even when the stimulation is turned off."

Chris Lumb, CEO of TEC Edmonton, said that as the U of A's technology transfer agent, TEC Edmonton has the privilege to facilitate the innovation journey, from initial discoveries to licensing deals, spinoffs and industry partnerships.

"Being a part of these outcomes reinforces our commitment to translating research and innovation into valuable technologies and products," said Lumb.

One of the 11 honoured companies hoping its good idea translates into commercial success is Nanolog Audio, a cutting-edge nanotechnology company that combines quantum physics with the world of music.

By controlling the way electrons move across carbon molecules, chemistry professor Richard McCreery and colleague Adam Bergen, a research officer at the National Institute for Nanotechnology, unlocked a depth of sound far superior to the output of current silicon-based devices, even eclipsing industry-preferred tube amplifiers, while creating a distinct spectrum of acoustic bending sounds.

"Music is really all about harmonics," said McCreery, who came to the U of A from Ohio State University in 2006. "You can have a single note, whether it be from a trumpet or an opera singer, and they obviously sound different.

"What this device does is alter the harmonics distribution in ways that are appealing, certainly to the rock world and probably to others."

Since incorporating in 2015, Nanolog Audio has sold more than 700 pedals or molecular junction components, but McCreery figures they can take a bigger bite out of an effects pedal industry currently worth $100 million in the United States.

"When I first came to the U of A, I needed to deal with a tech transfer deal, which TEC Edmonton negotiated. TEC Edmonton has been great in terms of flexibility and it has been a great partnership," he said.

Matthias Ruth, U of A vice-president of research, said technology transfer and knowledge translation are an essential component of the U of A's mission as outlined in its strategic plan, For the Public Good.

"Our researchers have a long and distinguished history of contributing to the improvement of society through enhanced health and quality of life, economic growth, technical innovations, and scientific and engineering advances," he said.

Patent award recipients

Oligosaccharide conjugates and methods of use

Chemistry professor David Bundle and his team developed a way to measure and detect the production of antibodies in livestock that have contracted Brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can also infect humans.

Neuromuscular stimulation system and method

In an effort to improved therapy to restore muscle, bone and voluntary control of vital functions, David Collins, researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, and his team improved on traditional neuromuscular electrical stimulation by changing the duration and frequency of the electrical impulses and stimulating multiple muscles to reactivate circuits in the nervous system that control movement.

Device and method for bacterial culture and assay

Chemistry professor Ratmir Derda and his team designed a portable culture device used to assay cells in areas without sophisticated laboratory equipment. This device grows cells in paper rather than a laboratory culture dish and uses dormant bacteria to detect the type of cells cultured.

Parathyroid hormone, insulin, and related peptides conjugated to bone targeting moieties and methods of making and using thereof

Hormonal deficiencies brought by osteoporosis, psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis strip bones' ability to rebuild and can lead to injury. The available treatments cause severe side-effects, with some linking to cancer development. Michael Doschak and his research team in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences developed a promising treatment that targets bone building components at the cellular level.

Modified alkali metal nanotitanates for hydrogen sulphide adsorption

Hydrogen sulphide is a contaminant in fuel process streams that can damage equipment. Thanks to nanotitanate-based pellets developed by materials engineering professor Steven Kuznicki, hydrogen sulphide can be pulled from a liquid to a level of less than one part per million.

Methods, kits, and systems for treatment of metastatic papillary thyroid cancer

Metastatic papillary thyroid cancer is an aggressive type of thyroid cancer that can easily and rapidly spread. Because of this, there is a need to identify high-risk individuals. Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry colleagues Raymond Lai and Todd McMullen developed a method to identify these individuals using biomarkers and risk factors. Early screening will enable physicians to proactively identify, plan and optimize thyroid cancer treatment.

N-doped carbon materials

Nitrogen-rich carbon materials are useful for applications such as supercapacitors, battery electrodes, fuel cell components and direct methanol fuel cells and as sorbents for CO2 capture. However, existing processes are costly and require intense chemical treatments such as acid boiling or exposure to high-temperature ammonia vapours to create material with a nitrogen-rich surface. By using eggshell as the starting material for their process, materials engineering researcher Zhi Li and the research team were able to design a production method that uses less chemicals and results in a high-quality product at lower cost.

Leukocyte activation and methods of use thereof

David Olson, a researcher in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, developed an innovative method to predict whether a pregnant women will deliver early. By analyzing blood samples of pregnant individuals, doctors can assess the activity of white blood cells triggered during labour. When white blood cell activity at less than 37 weeks is similar to the high levels at term, there is a higher likelihood of delivering early. This early prediction of preterm delivery can lead to early intervention and thereby improved health for the baby.

Small molecule inhibitors of polynucleotide kinase/phosphatase, poly (adp-ribose) polymerase and uses thereof

Radiation and chemotherapy work by damaging the DNA of cancerous cells, stopping their rapid production and spread. However, cancerous cells can become resistant by producing a vast number of enzymes capable of repairing the damaged DNA. By combining innovative multicomponent chemistry and ingenious biological assays, oncology researcher Michael Weinfeld and chemistry professor Dennis Hall identified small molecules capable of preventing DNA repair in aggressive cancerous cells. Inhibiting DNA repair systems has a profound impact on cancer treatment and, in some cancers, even eliminates the need for radiation and chemotherapy.

Spinoff award recipients

48Hour Discovery

Using its library of more than a billion molecules, along with bioinformatics and proprietary techniques developed by chemistry professor Ratmir Derda and his team, 48Hour Discovery provides ligand screening services at an unprecedented turnaround time. The company's unique approach has the potential to empower academic research and to unlock new discoveries for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.


Oncology researcher Linda Pilarski spent the last 15 years developing a DNA detection system and a capillary sample cassette that combine to create cassette PCR: a rapid, robust, user-friendly technology that detects harmful bacteria in seven hours, compared with standard testing lab times of 24 to 48 hours. The Amplicet research team also developed a fast, sensitive sample preparation method that allows several tests for specific problematic microbes in industry settings, such as food pathogens like E. coli and corrosion-promoting bacteria.

BioImmuno Designs

BioImmuno Designs, founded by the pediatric oncologist Shairaz Baksh, is dedicated to developing first-line therapeutics to inflammatory diseases and cancer. They believe a better understanding of the molecular link between inflammation and cancer will lead to the identification of novel therapeutic drugs inhibiting key molecules driving disease.

DenSonics Imaging

DenSonics Imaging was founded by dentistry professors Paul Major and Neel Kaipatur and radiology researcher Lawrence Le to develop diagnostic ultrasound solutions for oral health care. Ultrasound can provide low-cost dental imaging with no ionizing radiation and the ability to visualize soft tissues that are invisible with conventional X-rays. DenSonics' goal is to use its novel imaging methodology to design and commercialize a small-scale, specifically designed diagnostic ultrasound system for dental application.

Electronic Medical Procedure Reporting Systems

Electronic Medical Procedure Reporting Systems, founded by family medicine professor Michael Kolber and his colleague Nicole Olivier, uses their state-of-the-art electronic data collection system that enables clinicians to capture, synthesize and report quality metrics for medical procedures. To date, 14 Alberta hospitals have used it for more than 3,000 procedures.


Traditional photoacoustic imaging requires a bulky transducer, coupling media such as water or ultrasound gel, and direct physical contact with tissue. Direct physical contact limits traditional photoacoustic imaging for clinical use because it may cause tissue damage or transmit bacteria, viruses or prions. To remedy this, engineering professor Roger Zemp and his team founded illumiSonics, which uses technology that requires no physical contact and is sensitive enough to capture real-time video of blood oxygenation and hypoxia in capillary networks of living tissue. Research and clinical applications of the technology also include in vivo evaluation of biologic processes in cancer, diabetes, stroke, myocardial ischemia, wound healing and eye diseases.

Molecular You Corporation

Molecular You is making preventive, holistic and patient-centric approach to health care a reality. With the license of key platform technologies developed by David Wishart and technical expertise from The Metabolomic Innovation Centre (TMIC), Molecular You is developing comprehensive health assessments that uncover genetic, metabolite, environmental and protein biomarkers linked to health risks. Based on the results of the assessments, individuals receive a personalized nutrition and exercise plan, along with the tools to proactively achieve their health-care goals.

Nanolog Audio

Nanolog Audio is a cutting-edge nanotechnology company that combines quantum physics with the world of music. Chemistry professor Richard McCreery and his team developed a wide range of products used to produce interesting and acoustic bending sounds that go beyond music produced by traditional means. By controlling the way electrons move across carbon molecules, Nanolog Audio has unlocked a new spectrum of sounds distinct from other electronic devices. One product is the WaveFunction Overdrive guitar pedal that allows guitar players to make a new range of effects and countless musical tones.

OMx Personal Health Analytics (DrugBank)

Created in 2006 by a team led by David Wishart, DrugBank is a comprehensive online database containing information on drugs and drug targets. It combines detailed chemical, pharmacological and pharmaceutical data with drug target information, including sequence, structure and pathway data. DrugBank is widely used by the drug industry, chemists, pharmacists, physicians, students and the public and has enabled the discovery and repurposing of a number of existing drugs to treat rare and newly identified illnesses.

Sensing Insights

U of A researchers Arindam Phani, Thomas Thundat and Vakhtang Putkaradze are now looking for ways to commercialize their new sensor that uses a vibrating nanowire "brush" to interact with outside air. The sensor has potential uses in chemical, defence and environmental applications.


Leah Gramlich and her team developed five intensive information modules to help health-care professionals access information to help them better inform their patients on how to manage illnesses like diabetes and obesity. These modules became integrated into WellnessRx, an online information database designed for health professionals. This comprehensive resource not only helps with current conditions, but also with promoting prevention strategies.