by Scott McAuley

Cells may be small, but new science and technology across the biological sciences are having a global impact. Innovations in synthetic biology, the microbiome, and regenerative medicine are creating new opportunities across medicine, chemical manufacturing, and environmental remediation.

To ensure these advances benefit Canadians, the Impact Centre is breaking down the silos between academic researchers, industry leaders and government agencies. On November 7, the Impact Centre’s Synthetic Biology Innovation Cluster (SYNBIO-IC) brought together a community of researchers, industry and government agencies who are working to better understand and apply new science and technology in the human micobiome and environmental remediation.

“Toronto is in a unique position to benefit from the latest advancements across the biological sciences,” said Prof. David McMillen, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Impact Centre’s SYNBIO-IC. “The academic expertise in regenerative medicine, microbiology, and synthetic biology at the U of T combined with the clinical leadership of the city’s hospitals is among the best in the world.”

Learn more about our clusters, including the Synthetic Biology Innovation Cluster (SYNBIO-IC)

The afternoon began with Dr. Marie Lindner, the Global Program Head of Strategic Partnerships at Novartis. She outlined how the global pharma company is looking at these new technologies, and what barriers still exist to bring them from the lab to market and impact human health.

Representing the academic research community, Prof. Stephen Girardin and Prof. John Parkinson from the University of Toronto shared their research into what type of microbial communities make up the microbiome as well as how those microbes, and the molecules that they produce, interact with the human gut. Of particular interest is how the gut microbiome may influence regeneration of gut cells and the onset of irritable bowl disease (IBD).

Learn more about the Medicine by Design project to engineer bacteria to treat inflammatory bowel disease

Canadian businesses are using these technologies in new and exciting ways. Dr. Ali Riazi, President and COO of Biotagenics Inc., is working to develop therapeutics and companion diagnostics for the management and treatment of IBD.

Microbes are also being used in environmental remediation. Ross Orr, President and CEO of BacTech Environmental Corporation, shared how his company uses a unique collection of microbes to process mining tailings to make them more environmentally sustainable while extracting the remaining metals trapped in the debris. Mr. Phil Dennis, senior manager at SiREM, shared his company’s technology for injecting microbial communities into ground water to neutralize contaminants from industrial processes.

Numerous organizations are involved in promoting research and commercialization of these new technologies. Dr. Jordan Thomson from the Ontario Genomics Institute shared the organization’s vision for synthetic biology in the province. The agency is working on a National Synthetic Biology Conference in mid-March that will create a national platform to promote synthetic biology in Canada. Also, Dr. Alejandra de Almeida, a Research and Innovation Development Officer at NSERC, shared information on the ENGAGE and CRD funding programs that will fund research and development projects between Canadian companies and academic institutions.

Business or researcher interested in collaborating with the Synbio cluster? Contact Dr. Stanley Wong for more information.

Scott McAuley is the Communications Coordinator for the Impact Centre