Science Exchange has top quality service providers located in all parts of the world. Today we’re profiling one of our newest service providers AsureQuality, a New Zealand based provider of food safety and biosecurity services to the food and primary production sectors worldwide.
Science Exchange correspondent Peter Kerr recently paid a visit to their Lower Hutt laboratory where he caught up with Chief Science Officer (CSO) Dr. Harry van Enckevort.
Global mindset drives Kiwi ‘stamp of approval’ enterprise
Dr. Harry van Enckevort AsureQuality CSO
How does an organisation from the bottom of the world, excel internationally in verifying and stamping its approval on food quality and safety?
The first answer is because New Zealand exports over 90% of the food it produces, and other countries demand assurances of quality and safety against their market access standards.
The second is through 120 years of experience backed by expertise, professionalism and integrity which sees AsureQuality as its home country’s premier food assurances provider. These attributes also see it with significant operations in Australia, Singapore, China and the Middle East.
AsureQuality’s 1700 people have inherited and continue to develop world-leading inspection, auditing, certification, testing, training, advisory and authentication services.
As a recognised Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) it has a mandate that integrates inspection and certification with testing.
Dr. van Enckevort says food is the State Owned Enterprise’s main focus – giving consumers confidence in what they eat while also protecting the brands of countries and companies.
As well as New Zealand clients, customers include very well known non-NZ multinationals, with some of these brands also in the very sensitive infant formula space.
“AsureQuality also has a key role in New Zealand’s food safety regulatory framework and to do that we have to walk the line between customers and regulators. To achieve it we can’t have conflicts of interest. In practice it means across all AsureQuality services, we have to maintain our independence. We can only do that because we carefully cultivate our expertise, professionalism and integrity.”
Dr. van Enckevort says the organisation is based on a deeply skilled people resource underpinned by its science and technical capabilities.
“We also have a worldwide overview – helping take exports out of New Zealand and bringing global perspectives back home,” he says. “That customer focus is a two-way flow; they lead us and we lead them. If we didn’t there is no way we’d have our global expertise in food quality and safety.”
He says the company instills continual improvement through looking at ourselves and customer feedback and surveys.
“We’re constantly looking at what we need to do to stay relevant and ahead of the game and competition,” Dr van Enckevort says. “We’re always looking to find a better way, challenging our people how we can do things better, faster and smarter while still maintaining the quality of our output. Because there’s always changes in customers and industry as well as customer needs, we have feedback loops and responses.”
A particular point of focus is to add value for a customer beyond mere compliance, not simply ticking a box as part of an audit or certification.
When we give customer feedback in an audit, they might ask what the options are to mitigate the issues, “We say, here are some options – we don’t tell them what to do – they need to make their own call,” he says.
For AsureQuality to still be thriving in five years time, “to still have relevance, we will have to be commercially successful.”
“Our market offering will have to continue to be relevant, and we’ll need to maintain our comparative advantage against our competitors. If we do that we’d like to think we’ll have a larger global presence than we presently do. To achieve that we’ll need to continue to have the right people in the right place with the right expertise and service.”
“So far we’ve met the demands of customers and stakeholders all across the world. By maintaining our core focus on science and technology that is how we will continue to provide the services they want, how we will continue to grow.”
Would you like to work with AsureQuality on your next project? AsureQuality and thousands of other high quality service providers look forward to doing business with you on the Science Exchange platform. Request a free quote from any of these service providers today!
Imagine telling the inventor of the radio that the technology he discovered was now found in almost every kitchen in America, and that you used it to make your popcorn last night. He’d probably be surprised, and maybe you are, too. Sound far-fetched? Many aspects of modern life rely on technology that was first identified by 19th century physicists and then adapted to new applications. This not only includes microwave ovens from the example above, but state-of-the-art lab equipment which is poised to change the way researchers treat cancer. It might be hard to imagine cutting-edge discoveries in proteomics or precision medicine are the result of technology first conceived over a hundred years ago, but that’s what a new application called proteomic mass spectrometry imaging is doing for cancer diagnostic tests.
Many life scientists utilize research tools built on principles first explored and defined by physics, and mass spectrometry is a particularly impactful example. The technology we now use to measure mass-to-charge ratios of ions for the purpose of molecular analysis was first developed by J.J. Thomson on an instrument called a parabolic spectrograph in 1913. The spectrograph generated ions in gas discharge tubes, then passed the ions through parallel electric and magnetic fields. Subjecting the ions to these fields forced them to move in certain parabolic trajectories which would then be recorded on a photographic plate, as seen in the rather beautiful image below.
It was Thomson’s research at the end of the 19th century that lead to the discovery of the electron, work that eventually won him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1906. To hear a 77 year-old Thomson talk about that research (and how very small electrons are at around the 2:50 mark), watch this video filmed in 1934.
Besides the name change (there aren’t any spectrographs in labs these days), mass spectrometry has come a long way technologically. Advances by subsequent researchers made the technology more precise and the resulting output more accurate. In 1920 the first modern mass spectrometer was developed by Arthur Dempster, of uranium isotope fame, and by the 1970s scientists had begun experimenting with joining liquid chromatography techniques to the process. In 1989 the first LC-MS instrument was launched, securing it as a ubiquitous technique now in its third decade of use. The staying power of this technology is due to its versatility; it is able to directly analyze any biological molecule receptive to ionization. Scientists can use LC-MS to better understand the molecular structure of everything from wastewater to skin cream. The data collected during analysis can inform evaluation of product effectiveness, environmental toxins, or the function of a protein. For this reason it provides valuable research applications in environmental analysis, consumer products, agriculture, and in this case, precision medicine.
Now a bona fide buzzword, the concept of precision medicine was catapulted into the social vernacular in 2015 when President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative in his State of the Union Address. In practice, precision medicine isn’t entirely new; physicians and researchers have long understood the importance of individualized factors in treating or diagnosing patients. The concept of blood type matching and bone marrow donation registries are both examples of precision medicine we have accepted as standard treatments. Advances in biotechnology are ushering in a new emphasis on specialized medicine and carry with it the hope of more effective diagnostics and treatments for ailments like cardiovascular disease and cancer. Much of this promise rests on discoveries being made in the field of proteomics, particularly about the role of proteins in healthy cells versus diseased cells. The form, function, and interaction of these proteins can indicate the presence of disease, identify molecular therapeutic targets, and help define molecular disease taxonomies for future research. Finding a measurable indicator for any of these biological states is called a biomarker, making it the focus of many proteomics and cancer researchers.
It turns out, a very familiar technology is proving to be the best tool for unlocking the largely unknown world of proteins. LC-MS breaks down the complicated protein structures from their three dimensional form, and then into even smaller units called peptides. The quantitative analysis of these peptides makes it possible for scientists to identify protein expression profiles associated with certain cancers. Clinically viable biomarker panels could greatly increase early detection and definitive disease identification in patients, both of which are known to improve patient survival rate. This specificity in diagnosis allows patients and physicians to be better informed when making treatment decisions by understanding the disease on a molecular level. Biomarkers can improve standard differential diagnosis descriptions, which up to now have largely included physical symptoms that manifest at later stages of disease development, like metastasis. Some diseases like malignant melanoma present in very cryptic ways, making them difficult to diagnose, even for highly trained dermatopathologists. Inconclusive biopsy results or histological features that are also found in non-cancerous moles complicate diagnosis and can lead to costly mistakes in the course of treatment for such a common and potentially deadly disease. According to the American Cancer Society over 10,000 people will die this year from the disease, making it the most lethal of all skin cancers. A collaborative research project between Yale scientists and Protea Biosciences is seeking to change that with a new diagnostic technology. In April of this year they announced exclusive licensing for a method which uses unique protein expression profiles to discern the presence of cancer. The results of the first clinical study were presented in 2015, showing 99 percent accuracy in identifying malignant melanoma and benign melanocytic nevi.
Achievements like this highlight the benefit of partnerships between academia and industry, which are becoming more common in many sectors of biotechnology. If precision medicine is to become a reality, it will have to tackle complex disease models that have historically confounded individual pharmaceutical companies or research labs. Open innovation between researchers on both sides advances scientific discovery and expedites successful clinical implementation of potentially life-saving drugs. As scientists work on more complicated human health issues, they will need to find collaborators who are best suited to solve the research objective at hand, while accessing novel technologies best suited for the job.
Just as the concept of precision medicine has expanded with scientific discoveries in biotechnology, the technique of mass spectrometry has evolved to address new research questions with advances in bioinformatics and lab technology. Deciphering the human proteome is still a ways off, but innovative techniques and research partnerships will surely have a role to play in unlocking the power of proteomics for human health. As LC-MS capabilities continue to improve, new disease diagnostics and treatments will be added to the arsenal of options available to physicians. The next time you hear about an advancement in precision medicine (or pop a bag of popcorn), thank a physicist.
Looking for a cutting-edge collaborator like Protea to help with your research project? Visit our marketplace to find the right provider for your mass spec analysis, or any of the thousands of experiment types we offer.
At the Blue Sky Bio Competition held during the SynBioBeta SF 2015 meeting, three finalists presented their ideas to the conference audience. They each hoped to win the prize resources in order to get the boost they needed to bring their ideas to fruition. Science Exchange sponsored this event, and presented the winners with $100,000 in credits to be used on the Science Exchange platform. In the end, the audience decided to divide the winnings among the three finalists. Ewa Lis, founder and CEO of Koliber Biosciences and one of the winners, presented her ideas about probiotics and depression.
Ewa hopes to tackle the problem of depression. They propose to develop a probiotic strain that will produce a serotonin precursor of tryptophan directly in the gut. A probiotic supplement, especially if available over the counter, is more likely to be accepted by the large population of people that currently avoid medical treatment. It solves the problem of tryptophan degradation in the stomach and doesn’t require long treatment.
The market need for new depression treatments is clear. Depression affects 350 million people worldwide and results in $30 billion of economic loss. Two thirds of people suffering from depression do not seek medical treatment despite the existence of treatments. Moreover many failed treatments are due to patients stopping the medication themselves, often due to side effects.
Ewa and her team will use Science Exchange to develop probiotics that will ameliorate the effects of depression. To develop the strains they will use information from whole genome sequencing, RNA sequencing and analytical chemistry, services readily available via Science Exchange. Combined with their expertise in strain engineering and machine learning, they will be able to leverage the Science Exchange services to accelerate their research.
Science Exchange has many labs that can help Ewa and her team. For DNA sequencing, labs like Macrogen, Laragen, Quick Biology, Affiliated Genetics, ACGT and Applied Biological Materials can perform the work. For RNA sequencing, there are over 60 labs that can help Koliber Biosciences. In addition to these services, Science Exchange has labs that specifically focus on gut microbial community studies such as Second Genome. Lastly, Science Exchange offers many, many labs that perform standard studies such as amino acid analysis and compound synthesis. Science Exchange is the right resource to help Koliber Biosciences get started.
Biomarker research is one of the hottest areas of science right now, and it’s easy to see why: finding quicker and easier ways to diagnose and treat human disease is the ambition of researchers, physicians and patients alike. Tissue and blood samples are now frequently collected during clinical trials for downstream analysis of proteins, nucleic acids, and other molecules that can indicate the presence and/or progression of disease. However, researchers everywhere are starting to look at a less popular biofluid as the next horizon in biomarker discovery: urine. For the Pendergrast brothers of Ymir Genomics, urine biomarker research is a family affair.
While proteins have classically been considered the ideal biomarker, microRNAs (miRNAs) are gaining traction as robust indicators of pathology. These small, non-coding RNAs are often misregulated in disease, and changes in their expression patterns can be discerned through microarray or next-generation sequencing techniques. In various biofluids, both proteins and miRNAs are often found complexed with lipids in small, extracellular vesicles knowns as exosomes. These exosomes are shed from cells all over the body, and may be a critical for cell–cell communication.
Many studies are now finding that the same exosomes and biomarkers present in blood are also found in urine (J. Mol. Cell Card. 2012 53:668; reviewed in Front. Gen. 2013 4:1). Urine has several advantages over plasma: It can be collected noninvasively (no needles! pain free!) and in large quantities. Urine samples are neither infectious nor considered biohazardous, making disposal much easier. While plasma is generally obtained from a single time point, multiple urine samples can be collected over a period of time, allowing for easier monitoring of time-dependent changes in biomarker levels. Also important, proteins and miRNAs are highly stable in urine for long periods of time (Biomark Med. 2013 7:4).
Yet, the issue remains: How do you isolate biomarker-containing exosomes from urine? Many researchers have struggled to answer this question. Enter Ymir Genomics.
Ymir Genomics: Brothers united for biomarkers
Just over two years ago, Ymir Genomics was founded in Cambridge, MA as a partnership between three brothers with distinct skillsets: Dr. Shannon Pendergrast (Chief Scientific Officer), an accomplished molecular biologist; Scott Pendergrast (Chief Executive Officer), a seasoned business leader; and Stephen Pendergrast (Chief Technology Officer), a software development guru. The company has two goals: 1) provide new tools to facilitate the discovery of biomarkers from biofluids such as blood and urine and 2) use these tools to discover novel urine biomarkers to fight human disease.
One of their signature discoveries has been a novel method to isolate intact exosomes from human or animal urine, obtaining both high quality proteins and RNAs for use in biomarker analysis. Their method is significantly cheaper, faster and more robust than existing techniques. Pure, high-quality proteins and nucleic acids can be isolated, even from very dilute samples. These samples can then be used for various proteomic and genomic analyses.
Since their start two years ago, Ymir has already been featured in Science, Newsweek, and The Boston Globe. Beyond developing new tools to advance biomarker discovery, Ymir also offers experimental services to researchers, including exosome, miRNA and protein isolation from urine and other biofluids. Additionally, they routinely collaborate with other nearby companies to offer downstream services, such as qPCR or miRNA arrays.
To learn more about the services offered by Ymir, contact them directly through their Science Exchange storefront.
Recently I spoke with Ries Robinson from our lab Medici Technologies. Everything about Medici Technologies is captivating, from the story behind their unique name to their interesting approach to data analysis. Check out more on their specialized approach below!
Q: What is Medici Technologies’ specialty?
Ries: We analyze data for groups or companies that have data that is so complex that it exceeds their resources. We are a consulting firm that provides expertise in data analysis.
Q: Why did you choose Medici as your name?
Ries: The Medici Effect is the idea that significant breakthroughs in innovation and technology often occur when you cross-pollinate fields. It stems from the Renaissance. For example, a Renaissance family would make the plumber work with the weaver, or someone with a different skill set, and that’s part of what initiated the Renaissance movement.
A lot of what we do is pull different ideas or algorithms from different places. Historically, we’ve worked on complex data analysis of optical signals for measuring chemicals or analytes in the body, but some of our greatest breakthroughs have been by taking algorithms from non-traditional sectors. For example, we can utilize song recognition and gesture recognition tools to classify tissue types. Utilizing methods developed in other applications has been extremely beneficial. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently spoke with our user Ethan Perlstein, whose one-of-a-kind independent lab is flipping traditional drug discovery on its head. Check out how he is changing the paradigm of traditional research, pharmacology, and more below.
Q: What is the focus of the Perlstein Lab?
Ethan: The Perlstein Lab is focused on personalized orphan drug discovery. We take a two-pronged approach. We first create a primordial disease model for a given patients’ mutation; that involves taking a change in the DNA that you see in the disease and putting it into the model organisms.
We use yeast, worms, flies, and fish that have ancestral versions of that gene. We can use those models to do drug discovery, and we can validate the hits that we get in patient derived cells of the same genotype. So it’s a closed system where everything is personalized from the outset.
Q: How did it come into existence? What was the progression from your very first crowdfunding experience to starting your own lab?
Ethan: The science behind it has been incubating a long time, since I was in grad school, so it’s been a ten-year process. Screening using a model organism is something I did in grad school, so it’s existed for awhile. As a post-doc, I took some of those scientific concepts and drilled down deeper, so that put me in a good position to have a scientific foundation.
I spent the next 18 months leaving academia and navigating the business side. Last fall, I put together a business plan, had it reviewed by business people, improved my plan, and by the end of 2014 I began fundraising.
The team started to come together in early April. The lab started to come together in terms of equipment and structure in mid-April. And now we have a fully functional lab that has yeast, worms, and flies, and it’s off to the races. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Woodard (right) Director of the Biotech Research and Education Program.
I recently spoke with Ben Woodard, Director of the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility on Science Exchange. They help take research to the next level, literally. They scale up existing scientific procedures to make them ready for commercial production. Check out more on their interesting and unique niche below!
Q: What is your role with BREP?
Ben: I’m the Director of the Biotechnology Research and Education program (BREP) at the University of Maryland. The program encompasses two core facilities including the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility that focuses on yeast and bacteria processes and the Biopharmaceuticals Advancement Facility that focuses on adherent or suspension-adapted cell lines such as HEK293, CHO, Sf9, NSO, and MSCs.
Q: How did the Program come into existence?
Ben: The program began with just the Scale-Up Facility. In 1985 the University and my department, then The Engineering Research Center, felt that there was a need for a laboratory that would enable collaborative research between academics and industry.
The faculty had great ideas, but they didn’t know how to commercialize them, they didn’t know how to take a product to market. The industry had challenges with their processes that needed the expertise of the academics. So the Facility was created to link these two groups together. When it began in ‘85 it was one of the only contract research facilities on the East Coast, it was pretty novel at the time.
We were created to spark economic development for the State while providing small start-ups, faculty researchers, and student researchers with a knowledge base that would help them create novel and new technologies. Ultimately trying foster growth in the Maryland biotech sector.
Q: What are the most popular experiments?
Ben: Cell culture and fermentation projects, protein expression and purification. We specialize in taking a cell line that’s been modified and scaling up its production for pre-clinical research. Additionally, we have fantastic training and workforce development program that has trained over 200 technicians and researchers for the biotech industry.
Q: What are some of the major projects you worked on?
Ben: A major success was a product called Synagis, a top selling biopharmaceutical. It’s used to treat respiratory syncytial virus, a virus that prevents proper lung development in premature babies.
A second major project was our work with Martek and their product LifesDHA. It’s a fatty acid that’s been linked to brain and eye development in children. DHA is naturally found in breast milk, but Martek, with the help of our facility, was able to optimize its production in algae. Just about every child in North America under the age of 14 has consumed their product.
Our service isn’t to identify proteins or antibodies such as these, it’s to provide research, optimization, scale-up, and the like, to support the efforts of the biotech community. We provide services that are crucial to the long term growth of a biotech product.
A parallel would be if you make a Duncan Heinz cake for your office. You get an egg, you mix it up with the mix and a little oil, bake it and you can feed 5 or 6 people. Now make that cake and feed the entire Northern hemisphere. Do you add 1 million times more eggs? Bake at a different temperature? You can’t just multiply the number of eggs by the anticipated number of servings. You have to change variables such as temperature, the size of the pan, and the ratio of oil to mix, in order for the cake to bake correctly.
Now for us, a researcher or clinician may have an idea that they’ve researched in small scale and found they can produce a small amount, a few milligrams of a protein or antibody, perhaps enough to treat a mouse. Now how do you scale-up that product to treat 4 or 5 million people? That’s where we come in.
Our mission is three-fold: do contract service work, help workforce development, and support education and research opportunities for undergraduate students.
Q: How did you end up working there?
Ben: I started as an undergraduate student in 1994 in the fermentation facility. I was working on workforce development project for MedImmune, training over 100 of their employees, and I really enjoyed the work in and the interaction with other. I’ve been involved with the BREP since.
Q: How has your experience been using Science Exchange?
Ben: It’s been great. It’s been a unique opportunity to expand our reach outside Maryland. Being a state university we don’t spend a lot of money on marketing, but with Science Exchange we can utilize equipment that’s normally stagnant. Science Exchange allows researchers from other institutions to access equipment that would’ve been idle. Working with Science Exchange has really been a great source of opportunities for us to make our equipment operate at a higher volume.
Check out more on the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility at their Science Exchange storefront.
About the author
Tess Mayall builds Science Exchange’s online and offline community of scientists and providers. She is a geologist by training, but considers herself a friend of scientists near and far.
BioSynthetic Artificial Cornea of Eyegenix LLC.
Derek Duan is a Principal Investigator at Eyegenix, a small biotech in Hawaii that is creating a unique way to cure corneal blindness.
How are they doing it? By creating a synthetic, transplantable cornea that promotes tissue regeneration.
I spoke with Derek about their novel approach to curing blindness, the biotech scene in Hawaii, and his experience using Science Exchange. Check out our conversation below.
Q: Tell me about Eyegenix.
Derek: We’re a biotech company located in Honolulu, Hawaii. We’re doing research and development on the most advanced artificial cornea in the world. This is a biosynthetic polymer based product.
We’re very excited to put our artificial corneas into the market as soon as possible, because there are millions of people globally that could be cured with this product.
Q: How did the company start?
Derek: Dr. Hank C.K. Wuh, who was born in Hawaii and educated in the mainland, founded the company in 2012. He wanted to come back and serve Hawaii. He’s making use of the island as an intersection of Asia, Australia and America to be a center for biotech research. That’s why he decided to come back and fund his company. Read the rest of this entry »
Zhiyong Wang in the lab at ADS Biosystems.
I recently talked with Zhiyong Wang Ph.D, CEO of ADS Biosystems Inc. ADS Biosystems specializes in cell-based assay development. In particular, Zhiyong applies his experience and expertise from the renowned Hunter Lab at the Salk Institute to develop assays with brown and white fat, routine human cell lines, human adult stem cells, and rodent cochlea.
Check out more on his background and inspiration below.
Q: What were you doing before you started ADS Biosystems?
Zhiyong: From 2002 – 2009, I was a research associate in the Hunter Lab at the Salk Institute. The lab is fantastic and everyone enjoys developing and working on their own projects. It’s a great environment with diverse expertise and collaborative spirits. Tony encourages people to be independent and explore what inspires them. Tony co-founded the Signal Pharmaceutical Inc., which is now part of Celgene Corp. Therefore, it is not surprising that a few people from his lab have started their own companies.
I was researching metabolism, obesity, and diabetics with mouse genetic models, and discovered crucial roles of transcriptional master regulators in obesity and glucose resistance. I was fascinated with fat cells (adipocytes) in particular.
That was the reason why I was recruited to a local stem cell company that planned to build a brown fat program from scratch. At that time, there were exciting discoveries that adult humans have brown fat, which burns energy and may be used to combat obesity and diabetes. I was really excited about the project and enjoyed building the brown fat program from the ground up. I discovered a family of small molecule compounds that induced brown fat formation from human adult stem cells. I also developed a platform to discover novels compounds, which induce brown fat formation in obese patients to burn extra energy.
Another project at my previous company started with a Department of Defense (DOD) grant. As you know, some of our soldiers at Afghanistan and Iraq experienced battlefield noises and lost their hearing. We wanted to restore their hearing by stimulating stem cells in cochlea to regenerate inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for sound wave sensing. As the lead scientist for the project, I developed cochlear organ culture-based assays to identify candidate compounds, which induce hair cell regeneration. Our hearing team was great in that we really enjoyed working together and we were very productive: we generated two patents for the compounds of hearing restoration and discovered a novel pathway critical for inner ear hair cell regeneration. Read the rest of this entry »
Hannah Margolis prepping yeast cells for her project at Elko High School.
Recently I interviewed an extremely unique Science Exchange user, Hannah Margolis. Hannah is a high school student studying the effect of stress on Sirtuin 2 proteins, which play a role in aging. Hannah won first place at the Elko County Science Fair and competed at Intel International’s National Science and Engineering Fair!
When I talked to Hannah, I was absolutely awestruck by her intelligence, initiative, and passion for knowledge. Check out how she approached this research problem below.
Q: How did you get the idea to look into the effect of stress?
Hannah: Last year I did a physics project, which involved blowing stuff up with alpha particles. When that was over I was looking into cosmic rays, but I found out you can’t do anything cool with cosmic rays. However, while I was looking into it I learned that people who are exposed to more cosmic rays are reported to live longer. That led to this idea called radiation hormesis – the idea that low amounts of radiation are good for you. I thought that was really weird.
I kept looking into it, and I found that any type of stress is supposed to reduce your chance of getting cancer and getting sick. It sounds great, but nobody uses it because we don’t know how it works. It’s a little bit scary to tell people to go subject themselves to low amounts of radiation – people wouldn’t do that. I wanted to try to figure out why it works, so we can someday implement it in society, because it’s a great proactive treatment. Read the rest of this entry »