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!
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 »
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.
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 »
Cell line authentication at DDC Medical.
Over a third of cell lines used for biomedical research are contaminated or misidentified resulting in wasted resources, unreliable data, and irreproducible results.1 As a result, many journals and funding agencies now require cell line authentication for their studies.
Earlier this week, I wrote about our user, Eric Hugo, who did cell line authentication on several human cell lines that he had created. The experiment gave him confidence that his cell lines had the expected XY profile, hadn’t been contaminated, and were completely unique – all crucial findings for any researcher creating new cell lines.
Until recently, it has only been possible to authenticate cell lines from humans. Excitingly, DDC Medical has just developed and released a mouse cell line authentication test, providing researchers a way to validate their mouse cell lines for the first time. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently I spoke with Dr. Aman and Todd Pelham at IBT Bioservices, I was blown away by the care and consideration they put into their work.
IBT Bioservices is an early stage drug discovery company that knows the research process doesn’t always go as expected. The lab work isn’t simple; it’s filled twists and turns along the way. As a result, IBT Bioservices is a new version of CRO that has increased expertise and communication to navigate all the bumps in the road.
IBT Bioservices is dedicated to infectious disease research. With expertise in immunology, virology, bacteriology, and animal model development, they’ve established a core of services focused on adding value to early R&D programs. Read the rest of this entry »