Research Drives Innovation

Research Drives Innovation

Driving the future through ideas, knowledge and discovery


One way to ensure UAlberta research has the greatest reach and impact on both society and the economy is to transfer our ideas, knowledge and discoveries out of the institution and into the community. One way this is done is commercialization (i.e., patents, licenses and the creation of new companies).

Each year, the 'Innovation... Makes Sense (IMS) event celebrates the transfer of recent UAlberta-driven ideas, innovations and technologies. It event also highlights collaborations that make it all happen; that is collaboration between researchers, funding agencies, business entities, UAlberta and TEC Edmonton. IMS is hosted by business incubator TEC Edmonton (a joint venture between UAlberta and the City of Edmonton).

This year, IMS celebrated 16 UAlberta researchers and their teams for receiving US patents in 2014/2015, and the creation of UAlberta spin-offs born from UAlberta-based research. Six Edmonton-based spin-offs were created last year; four were featured at IMS 2015: 

2014/2015 UAlberta spin-offs celebrated at IMS 2015

  • Quantum Silicon Inc (QSI): grew out of the advanced research of UAlberta physics researcher and professor Robert Wolkow. QSI is developing atomic- scale, ultra-low-power computing devices designed to supplement or replace transistor-based integrated circuits. These new devices will be smaller, faster, and more dynamic computing devices operating at room temperatures, using significantly less power and emitting less heat than today’s computing devices.

  • VaxAlta: is helping improve animal quality of life and better, safer foods production via safe, effective, affordable, and easy to administer sugar-based livestock vaccines that eliminate the use of antibiotics. The company is currently developing several vaccines to target bacterial pathogens that affect animal health and human food safety. The spin-off is based on the research of UAlberta Biological Sciences researcher and professor, Christine Szymanski.

  • AltaCarbon: Early stage clean-tech company born from a UAlberta thesis project and UAlberta research. Started by former UAlberta students Alvin Xu and Geoff Bekavar with support from UAlberta’s eHub. AltaCarbon's patented technology process can convert the main by-product of the oil sand operation, petroleum coke, into activated carbon—a high value, high demand air and water purification agent. It is also used for mercury capture from coal fire power plants. AltaCarbon's technology uses microwave technology not a conventional heating furnace. Initial data shows AltaCarbon's process is 33% more energy efficient than competitors’ processes with almost 2X the yield. Additional advantages are that AltaCarbon's activated carbon has an above average absorption rate (900mg/g) and its raw material (oilsands waste-product) is over 50% cheaper than other petroleum coke sources. Successful at lab scale, the company is now scaling-up production and validating the technology at a commercial level. Testing and research continues at UAlberta.

  • 10 Pi Corp: UAlberta is home to the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning, one of North America's leading machine-learning organizations. Its 10 principal investigators, all UAlberta research scientists and professors are working on advanced data-based research—making it possible, for instance, to include individual genetic analysis in personalized health assessments. 10 Pi Corp was established to make the transition from research to business as smooth as possible for Machine Learning Centre for discoveries with commercial potential,

  US patents awarded last year to:
Many Albertans will remember the.2003 BSE crisis, when one cow with BSE was found on an Alberta farm. The devastating and far reaching fallout includes 30 countries closing their borders to Canadian cattle and beef, and other livestock and meat. Exports plummeted to zero and 5,000 jobs were lost. It’s estimated the crisis cost $11 million/day while borders were closed. Ten years later, the cattle industry has yet to fully recover.
  • Burium Ametaj (agriculture, food & nutritional science): Burium’s work enhances dairy cow immunity to bacterial toxins that could infertility, udder infections, lameness and other disease. Ingested as a vaccine before the cow starts on a high-grain diet, Burim’s technology could benefit Canada’s dairy industry, one of our most important and valuable agricultural sectors, and dairy herds world-wide.
  • Robert Wolkow (physics): Wolkow and his team have opened the door for revolutionary computer applications by making the smallest conceivable quantum dot—a single atom of silicon—and showing that electrons in the dot can be well behaved and exhibit controllable behavior at room temperature. Until now, complex and impractical super-cooled environments were needed to achieve such behavior. This patented technology is licensed to Wolkow's UAlberta spin-off company Quantium Silicon Inc.
  • Tayfun Babadagli (civil and environmental engineering): Recovering underground heavy oil or bitumen requires heating water into super-hot steam then injecting the steam with expensive solvents to loosen and transport the oil to the surface. Tayfun’s technology uses alternative injections of steam or hot water and solvent in a way that efficiently retrieves the expensive solvent at the end of the process, thereby making the process economically viable. Many oil companies have shown interest in testing and possibly commercializing the process.
  • Carol Cass (oncology) and James Young (physiology): Cass and Young have patented antibody will offer a new way to personalize therapy for pancreatic cancer. Nucleoside macromolecules enter cells via a transporter protein known as hENT1. Anti-cancer nucleoside drugs mimic normal nucleosides and ride into cancer cells via hENT1 where they interfere with cellular reproduction. If successful in human trials and approved for diagnostic use, oncologists can identify patients with pancreatic cancer cells with low hENT1 and prescribe alternate treatments.
  • Michael Doschak (pharmaceutical sciences): A precise drug delivery system to rebuild damaged bones with greatly reduced side-effects. Phase I/IIa trials on bone cancer, subject to investment, will be completed in three years. This new platform joins two existing bone-related drug products under UAlberta spin-off company Osteo Metabolix Pharmaceuticals Inc.
  • David Evans (microbiology and immunology): Evans and his team have created an engineered ‘oncolytic’ virus that seeks out, enters and kills cancer cells. The virus takes advantage of the fact that cancer cells often gain mutations making them susceptible to viral infection. The trick is for the virus to burn through the tumour before the body’s immune system does its job and attacks the virus. In pre-clinical animal trials, the engineered virus proved to work well against bladder cancers. Breast cancers also appears to be susceptible. It is hoped that the virus therapy will have a secondary benefit in re-energizing the body's immune system.
  • Dennis Hall (chemistry): Hall discovered a new way to produce organic compounds, including amides and peptides, using novel catalysts. This has the promise of being more efficient, greener and less expensive than existing commercial chemical products. The technology is currently licensed to GreenCentre Canada for commercialization and catalyst samples are available for commercial evaluation from Sigma-Aldrich Inc., a world-leading provider of reagents to the global research community.
  • James Harynuk (chemistry): Harynuk has developed better data analysis tools and techniques, particularly for analytical chemistry research. His method quickly pulls out the most informative data points in a complex data set enabling better models and enabling non-experts to quickly collect and interpret data at deeper levels for multiple applications.
  • Usha Hemraz (former UAlberta post-doctoral fellow) and Hicham Fenniri (formerly UAlberta chemistry): Hip/ knee replacements usually involve replacing injured bones with metal implants; implants that have a limited lifetime because of insufficient bonding between the implant material and bone. Hemraz and Fenniri’s discovered a combination of bio-active nanomaterials that can coat conventional metal implant surfaces to provide superior compatibility and adhesion between implant and bone.
  • Nadar Joma (surgery), Locksley McGann (Laboratory Medicine/Pathology) and Janet Elliott (engineering and laboratory medicine/pathology): Transplanted joint cartilage can help repair joint injuries. But access to joint cartilage is challenging. No Canadian tissue bank routinely collects and stores cartilage for transplantation. Even if it did, current storage technology would enable a maximum storage time of only 28 days. Jomha, Elliott and McGann developed a way to prolong joint cartilage storage with extreme cold storage. The cartilage, cooled to -196 C in liquid nitrogen, can potentially last indefinitely.
  • Dileepan Joseph (electrical and computer engineering): While most photos are now taken with digital cameras, the image's pixels are still analog because of cost and size limitations. Dileepan's patent is for a digital pixel, with the promise of a fully digital camera to capture a wider range of light levels at video rates. The initial target application for the technology is medical imaging with a smaller digital pixel also under development.
  • Steve Kuznicki (Chemical and Materials Engineering): Has developed highly effective absorbent technology; technology that can be used to decontaminate nuclear reactor discharge, remove nitrogen from low-grade fuels, and produce pure oxygen. The technology also has anti-microbial abilities. Kuznicki's spin-off company Extraordinary Adsorbents Inc. is based on this technology and the UAlberta-based research that spawned the discovery. The technology is currently used by a Missouri company, in their oxygen generators, and Kuznicki's company is also currently working with three European nuclear plants.
  • Richard McCreey (chemistry): Past methods of establishing contact between metals and ‘soft’ organic materials usually involved hot metal vapors that can damage organic thin films and complicate organic molecule use in electronic circuits. McCreey found a way to diffuse ‘cold’ metal atoms to an organic film that avoids elevated temperatures. A process that should broaden the range of molecules used in electronic circuits, provide alternatives to traditional semi-conductors, and offer novel and useful electronic functions. 
  • Vivian Mushahwar (physical medicine/rehabilitation): Pressure ulcers can be fatal - actor Christopher Reeve died because of one. These ulcers can affect everyone with reduced mobility and sensation (e.g., the elderly, those who are bed ridden, in a wheelchair or in a coma, people with bone/joint diseases and anyone undergoing long surgical procedures. Mushahwar's technology is the first to prevent the development of inside-to-outside pressure sores by continuous and easily-applied electrical muscle stimulation. Now in clinical trials, the technology has far reaching implications both for pressure ulcer prevention and caregiver workloads.
  • Luis Schang (biochemistry): Many disease-causing viruses protect themselves with a lipid or fatty covering. Schang has synthesized a unique, anti-viral molecule that can inactivate viruses with a lipid envelope. The molecule could be used to fight existing and unknown/emerging viruses. One potential application is treating cold sores (herpes simplex 1). The challenge is formulating the anti-viral molecule. Because its unique it presents unique challenges to convert it into an easily applicable clinical product.