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Students and faculty in the School of Biological Sciences and Applied Chemistry

Applied research projects build expertise

Tackling sports supplements and stabilizing medical conundrums

Students and faculty in the School of Biological Sciences and Applied Chemistry are making important contributions to several applied research projects with external partners through Seneca’s office of Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We’ve fostered good relationships with companies that do molecular infectious disease testing, immunodiagnostic companies and cosmecuetical companies,” says Professor Dr. Frank Merante. “It’s great that we’re building this capacity.”

For one project, students worked with a company to provide evidence-based validation for a supplement that improved athletic performance by supporting an athlete’s mitochondria, which are essentially the power plants of our cells. In order to do that, a new way to provide metabolites, or the fuel for our cells, was required.

“If you take a typical athletic supplement, it’s probably packed with sugar or some other carbohydrate, so the body has to break that down to sugar and then further to active metabolites,” Frank explains. “What we did was bypass all that and optimize the performance of mitochondria by using the metabolites directly. We utilized ingredients that were effectively food that would fuel mitochondria directly and with greater ease, so athletes are able to use the fuel much more efficiently and perform better.”

Another important portion of the project was providing proof that the supplement worked.

“We were able to show the components of the supplement and the combination of the ingredients do have a very supportive effect on the mitochondria of the cells, testing cell cultures in the lab and with athletes through a specifically designed kinesiology study.”

Athletes were able to work harder in a defined period of time with a 17 per cent increase in their performance capacity.

Other recent projects have involved creating ways to stabilize proteins (vaccines and components for medical testing) easier to transport.

“There are some places in the world in dire need of diagnostic tests or vaccines which are hard to ship because they need to be kept cold,” Franks says. “Some of these areas may not have refrigeration on the receiving end, but if the protein is stabilized, it can be stored at higher temperatures.”

The answer was to create a way to carefully freeze-dry the delicate components of vaccines so they remained viable.

For a similar project, students and faculty were able to freeze-dry the components for a non-invasive test for H. pylori, the cause of 60 per cent of all stomach cancers and the third leading cause of cancer death in China.

The benefit of these applied research projects extends beyond the classroom, Frank says. They allow students to gain invaluable experience while forming relationships with potential employers.

“It also helps to keep our faculty up-to-date and work with industry leaders. It’s beneficial to the companies and it’s beneficial to us.”