Grad Students Nab Grants to Commercialize U of G Technology

July 23, 2013 - News Release

Two University of Guelph students have become the inaugural recipients of a new grant for commercializing Guelph technology. PhD students Amanda Naaum and Gavin Armstrong will each receive $60,000 a year under the University’s new Commercialization Fellowship Program.

Created by the Office of the President as part of the University’s BetterPlanet Project, the program will support two graduate students annually in developing entrepreneurial skills and commercializing a U of G research project or technology. Each grant runs for two years, and may be extended to a third year.

Naaum, an integrative biology PhD student, is developing probes for portable devices to help verify seafood species using DNA barcodes.

Invented at U of G, DNA barcoding identifies species of organisms using short, standardized regions of genetic material. By identifying mislabelled food products, the technology helps alleviate consumer fears.

Naaum is creating probes to identify commercial seafood species. Grocery retailers and others might use the technology to ensure correct product labelling.

“This fellowship will provide an opportunity for me to explore the pathway from University research to marketable product,” she said. “For students interested in applied research, there are few opportunities like this.”

Besides financial support, Naaum will get access to educational and business resources.

“It will allow me the freedom to develop the knowledge and skills required to successfully transition academic research to industry products -- skills I will be able to apply to future employment in either the academic or industrial sectors, or to start my own business. Without this award, it would not have been possible to fully pursue the commercial applications of my research.”

Armstrong, who is working on a doctorate in biomedical sciences, is commercializing an “iron fish” intended to combat life-threatening anemia in developing countries. The palm-sized chunk of iron shaped like a fish was developed by former U of G graduate student Christopher Charles. Placed into water that is being sterilized or used to prepare food, the product can help provide about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements and increase the body’s iron stores.

Armstrong created the “Lucky Iron Fish Project” to market and distribute the product in Cambodia and other regions worldwide plagued by iron deficiency anemia.

“I think it is amazing that the University of Guelph is making a substantial commitment to helping commercialize ideas that will make a better planet,” said Armstrong, who is currently in Cambodia.

“The Lucky Iron Fish is a bold, simple idea that has the ability to impact over three billion lives around the planet. This opportunity is going to help turn that idea into a reality.”

Armstrong plans to use the new grant funds to expand the project, operate with less debt and increase outreach efforts.

The grants will be administered by the University’s Catalyst Centre. A unit in the Office of Research, the Centre runs all aspects of the University’s activities in intellectual property management and technology commercialization, including patenting, licensing and starting new companies. It also links U of G expertise and resources with the research and development needs of industry and entrepreneurs, and helps researchers take advantage of funding opportunities.

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