On Oct. 8, 2015, TEC Edmonton honoured 16 University of Alberta researchers who had obtained patents – legal protection for their unique discoveries – through TEC Edmonton’s Technology Management team in the past year.
Patents are wonderful things. They give the inventor the “rights” to his or her invention, or, as they say in the business, his or her “intellectual property.”
But patent descriptions are full of baffling scientific jargon. We usually have no idea, in laymen’s terms, what the patent is all about.
Patents also don’t dwell on the implications of the ground-breaking research that is taking place at the University of Alberta. But that’s the most exciting part of a patent’s formal recognition! For each and every one of these patents has the potential to improve mankind’s lot.
Today’s consumers are not happy about the antibiotics fed to animals, the residue of which can be found in supermarket meats. Meanwhile, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are coming on strong.
Two U of A teams, one led by Dr. Christine Szymanski, the other by Dr. Burim Ametaj, have patented potential vaccines that, when fed to animals, could replace antibiotics as a safe, harmless way of ensuring livestock do not get sick from common animal diseases.
Dr. Szymanski’s work has already led to an incorporated company, VaxAlta, to create and sell new livestock vaccines. Dr. Ametaj’s vaccine has been licensed to the Healthy Cow Corporation.
DISEASE FIGHTING BACTERIA AND VIRUSES
Super bacteria, bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to chemically-created antibiotics, are a serious worry in today’s medical world.
Dr. Jonathan Dennis, a specialist in cystic fibrosis research, has identified and patented specific anti-bacteria virus (bacteriophage) combinations that can work together to attack highly antibiotic resistant bacteria, particularly those causing the cystic fibrosis lung disease.
The great challenge to virus researchers is the fact that constantly changing viruses are very difficult to kill – hence the fact there’s no cure for the common cold. Dr. Luis Schang could conceivably alter that fact. His team has synthesized and patented a unique, anti-viral molecule that will attack any virus with a lipid (fatty) covering – which is most of them. The potential for such an anti-viral molecule is transformational. Epidemics based on new viruses, such as those that caused AIDs and hepatitis – could be stopped in their tracks. Dr. Schang’s anti-viral molecule will initially be used to treat herpes simplex 1 (cold sores).
The word cancer always sends a chill up and down our spines, as a modern-day plague that is a leading cause of death. Virologist Dr. David Evans and his team have “engineered” i.e. created, and patented cancer-seeking viruses that, in animal trials, have sought out, entered and killed cancer cells. The engineered virus has the potential to be effective in human beings, especially against bladder and breast cancers.
KNOWING WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Drs. Carol Cass and James Young’s patented research may prove a great service to cancer patients and cancer docs, telling them what NOT to use as cancer-fighting drugs in individual patients. If the doctor knows ahead-of-time what’s not going to work, trial-and-error time and toxic side-effects are dramatically reduced.
Deteriorating bone is responsible for the millions of knee and hip replacement operations. Several U of A research teams are working on preventive alternatives for the bone-sawing surgeons.
Dr. Michael Doschak’s patented therapy delivers bone-strengthening hormones directly to damaged bone surfaces that need re-building. It is being tested to treat conditions including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and bone cancer.
In the hip and knee replacement department, surgeons are keenly aware that new hip/knee replacement parts will eventually wear out, necessitating further surgery to replace the replacements. The U of A team led by Dr. Hicham Fenniri (now teaching at Northeastern University) has created and patented “bio-active” nanomaterials that better bond the metal surfaces of implants with the bone in which the replacement joint is being anchored, with the possible promise of a much longer life of the original joint replacement.
Orthopaedic surgeons often use transplanted joint cartilage – just like human organs – to repair joint injuries. But replacement cartilage has to be similar in size and shape to the original, and transplant-suitable joint cartilage, once removed from the donor, only has a 24-day shelf life. If Drs. N.M. Johma, L.E. McGanna and J.A.W. Elliott can demonstrate that their now-patented extreme cold storage method of storing joint cartilage works and is economical, transplant cartilage of all shapes and sizes could be available indefinitely.
PREVENTING PRESSURE SORES
Pressure sores are the scourge of those who are unable, because of spinal injury or other causes, to move around or fidget as most of us do unconsciously. Fidgeting while sitting, or tossing and turning while sleeping avoids prolonged pressure on any particular part of our bodies. Dr. Vivian Mushahwar’s patent describes on-going, easily applicable and pre-determined patterns of electrical muscle stimulation her team has developed to prevent pressure sores from happening in the first place.
BETTER, FASTER, SMALLER AND CHEAPER COMPUTING/ELECTRONIC DEVICES
Researchers often differentiate between “fundamental” research and “applied” research. Dr. Robert Wolkow’s patented atomistic quantum dots straddle both worlds. In the nano-world, Dr. Wolkow has created the smallest possible quantum dot – a single atom – and has proved that the electronics in such a dot can be controlled at room temperatures. This “fundamental” research is opening the door for revolutionary, disruptive and mind-boggling computer applications in the not-so-distant future.
Also in the nano world, Dr. Richard McCreery’s team has found and patented novel methods of contact between metals and soft organic materials. McCreery’s research could offer alternatives to traditional semiconductors with new possibilities of electronic function.
Dr. Dil Joseph’s revolutionary new patented digital pixel captures much wider ranges of light levels for motion and still cameras than any current technology still relying on pixel analog applications for cost and size reasons. But as is always the case with electronics, inventions like Dr. Joseph’s digital pixel will become smaller and cheaper with successive generations. Meanwhile, the new digital pixel has considerable promise within medical imaging equipment.
SORTING OUT BIG DATA
Data analysis is a huge and complex field that escapes the understanding of the layman, but is absolutely essential in today’s computer-run world … particularly in its scientific application. Dr. James Harynuk has patented new data analysis tools for analytical chemistry, allowing non-experts to collect and interpret data at deeper levels for multiple applications.
ENVIRONMENTAL CLEAN UP
Dr. Dennis Hall’s patented new method of producing organic compounds lays the groundwork for producing more efficient, greener, and less-expensive alternatives to existing commercial chemical products.
Molecular sieve expert Dr. Steve Kuznicki has come up with dozens of novel (and patented) ways of using microscope sieves to separate molecules for any number of environmental purposes. His latest patent is about tiny silver balls within sieves that trap particular gases. The technology creates methods of making pure oxygen, enabling nuclear reactors to run cleanly and efficiently, and adsorbing radon – a gas that, at high concentrations in the air, is a leading cause of lung cancer.
For a patented invention to go “all the way” is a rare bird. The world of knowledge is a competitive place. At any given time, dozens of research teams around the world are trying different ways of solving the same problem, are competing for research dollars and commercial investment, and often must spend tens of millions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their potential products before they earn a dime in revenue.
But breakthroughs happen. U of A Virologist Dr. Lorne Tyrrell created the vaccine for Hepatitis B. Dr. Ray Rajotte and his team’s Edmonton Protocol has saved severe diabetics from certain death.
Every one of these inventions/patents expand the world of human knowledge. Every one of them adds their findings to the pool of knowledge shared by colleagues the world over. Every one of them, one way or another, does their part to improve mankind’s lot.
Researchers, TEC Edmonton salutes you.