Skin Deep: Nanoscience moves from research lab to start-up

There are lab studies – and then there’s personal experience. As a research scientist and co-founder at Veriphy Skincare in Guelph, University of Guelph graduate Carley Miki spends her days testing the fledgling company’s beauty products. “A lot of science goes into skin care,” says Miki, who graduated in 2012 in the inaugural cohort of the University’s nanoscience program.

Still, some of her best informal testing happens when she looks in the mirror.

Veriphy’s line of skin care products contains nanoparticles discovered in the lab of U of G physicist John Dutcher.
Veriphy’s line of skin care products contains nanoparticles discovered in the lab of U of G physicist John Dutcher.

Miki has used the company’s product triad – moisturizer, facial serum and eye cream – every day since Veriphy was launched last summer. The result? “I’ve noticed a big difference through this winter. Normally my skin is so dry and this winter it’s keeping healthy through all this crazy weather we’ve been getting.”

Call it professional and personal validation for a product line whose active ingredient was discovered by physics professor John Dutcher, Miki’s former lab supervisor during her studies at U of G. That ingredient – produced under the trade name PhytoSpherix – consists of glycogen nanoparticles that retain water.

Dutcher, holder of a Canada Research Chair in Soft Matter and Biological Physics, found those particles in sweet corn in 2008. A year later, he launched Mirexus Biotechnologies to explore applications in cosmetics, food supplements and drugs.

That same year, Miki arrived from Kingsville, Ont., to begin her undergrad in the University’s brand-new nanoscience program directed by Dutcher.

Back then, she hadn’t envisioned working with cosmetics. Miki just wanted to pursue her interest in STEM disciplines, perhaps influenced by her dad, who had studied physics before becoming a math teacher.

She was attracted by what she describes as U of G’s cutting-edge nanoscience program that meshed aspects of engineering, chemistry and physics. “I like working with them all,” she says. “When you start blending fields, you get some interesting science out of that.”

During the third summer of her undergrad, she worked in Dutcher’s MacNaughton Building lab on flow properties of his nano-based materials. “That solidified for me that I enjoyed working in the lab,” says Miki, who saw results from that initial work published in a physics journal last year.
After completing her master’s degree in physics at McMaster University in 2014, she returned to Guelph. By then, Dutcher was working on taking PhytoSpherix to market.

Mirexus and Veriphy are now housed in a 12,000-square-foot facility opened in 2018 in Guelph’s Hanlon Creek Business Park. Besides skin care applications, Mirexus aims to develop markets for its nanoparticles in nutraceuticals and drugs.

Working with Veriphy’s product formulator and co-op students from U of G and other schools, Miki has studied anti-aging and moisture retention properties of PhytoSpherix. The company plans to add a new cleanser and mask to its product line.

As well, Miki works on potential biomedical applications for phytoglycogen under Glysantis, a Mirexus subsidiary. Alter the formulation of PhytoSpherix, she says, and it affects the skin in different ways. She’s looking at use of the product for immune-based skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and contact dermatitis.

“We still work closely with John Dutcher’s group on fundamental properties of phytoglycogen,” says Veriphy president Alison Crumblehulme.

That’s not the company’s only ongoing tie with the University. In 2018, the inaugural Veriphy Skincare Scholarship for Women in STEM was awarded to first-year science student Grace Coleman. The new annual award is intended to encourage young women to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at U of G.

Worth $1,000, the funding came at a good time for Coleman, who arrived last fall from her hometown Halifax.

“I am solely responsible for paying for my own education,” she says. “The Veriphy scholarship is part of the much-appreciated funding I need to get to the Class of 2022 finish line.”

For Dutcher, the award is “the whole full circle. It’s nice that activity that started in the lab can actually help to enhance the education of up-and-coming students. A new scholarship is always a good thing, and to have it come from technology discovered at the University of Guelph is really quite special.”

This past February, Veriphy’s eye cream was chosen as tops in 2018 by Toronto-based Fashion magazine.