Seekers and solutions are all confidential. Following are the parts of success stories we can share with you.
Looking for big-picture answers to biological questions using theoretical and data-driven algorithms is an evolving field known as computational biology (CB). While the early work in CB largely came out of collaborations between biologists and physicists, engineers, or statisticians, it has evolved into a distinct field and through new technologies large datasets can be collected and integrated for startling insights. They can drive new biological thinking and decisions, enabling users to take previously abstract ideas and apply them to make increasingly precise predictions of complex systems.
Although CB groups have become more specialized, there are considerable opportunities for cross-pollination between computational biologists working in distantly-related fields. The Seeker was looking for a team to identify opportunities for investment over the next seven years.
The extraordinary team of highly-educated specialists, in fields spanning plant science, biomedical science, business, and mathematics, worked with the Seeker to identify the most promising commercial opportunities in CB. Their three-phase approach started with proposing a framework to systematically summarize both methods and applications across sectors. Their framework encompassed theoretical and data-driven methods and organized the major applications of CB across all fields of the life sciences.
In phase two, the team annotated this framework with the latest research applications in CB, the communities within CB, trends in research and the key players in these areas.
Finally, in phase three, the team provided a subset of areas the Seeker wanted to focus on. The research provided included key and emerging players, as well as anticipated trends in the next 5-10 years, and major regional initiatives.
The Seeker had an innovative idea – create deli products in different shapes – and asked SolverTeams to work out the practical details. To add to the challenge, the production rate had to be high speed and capable of producing a variety of different shapes.
The experienced team analyzed all the challenges and came up with a production method that addressed all the cooking, flavour and production challenges of high speed food processing.
The team recommended using liquids in several parts of the process. For example, liquid cooking may deliver the fastest required temperature change in the meat shapes, resulting in the lowest overall cost and the highest production rates due to minimal warping. The team recommended using flowing liquid instead of a conveyor belt as a preferred method of transporting figures and isolating them into different types.
In the agriculture sector, damage to commercial plantings caused by pathogens or insects can result in devastating losses. When attacked by pathogens, plants develop an immune response called systemic acquired resistance (SAR). As a result, researchers are trying to analyze how bacterial cells communicate using chemical signals (known as quorum sensing or QS), and how to trigger the plant’s own SAR response as a preventative measure without harming other flora.
The SAR response is not easily understood, and the search is on for solutions less harmful to other organisms than marketed products like neonicotinoids.
The team’s research explored new genetic advances that are providing clues to help us better understand SAR, and then identify and engineer an inheritable response.
The team summarized the link between signaling compounds and gene expression changes as well as recent evidence of SAR inheritance. They also targeted two possible solutions for a genetic approach. The ideas explored could have a huge impact on the sector, since an engineered SAR response can maintain the health of the plant’s natural microbial flora without harming the soil around it.
Synthesizing the sweetness enhancer known as dihydrochalcone does not come cheap. This Seeker wanted a novel and/or cost-effective approach that would bring down the cost of producing dihydrochalcone to 60€/kg.
The team came up with an innovative solution to produce the starting material 4 pyridine carboxaldehyde at a much cheaper price. It involves the continuous air oxidation in a tubular reactor of 4-picoline in the presence of a catalyst. The team also submitted a design of a compact and versatile laboratory-scale tubular reactor, to ensure that costs and energy consumption are kept to a minimum. Using this approach dihydrochalcone could be produced very near to the Seeker's target price.
Water security is one of the most pressing issues of our time, for both the developed and developing world. It is essential to conserve our most precious resource, yet every year billions of liters are evaporated from major dams. This Seeker approached us to get our teams to undertake initial product design and develop basic manufacturing specifications for a new self-forming, self-healing and semi-permeable membrane material to control evaporation at large dams.
One of our teams came up with a liquid layer of silicon fluid as a barrier. It is based on the use of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) fluids of relatively high viscosity applied at the surface of the water body. PDMS films are essentially hydrophobic. The solution also included strategies to improve the barrier properties of PDMS fluids.
The Seeker was searching for alternative routes to manufacturing emulsions of polymers that are thermoplastic, so that films produced from such emulsions are optically clear and solid at room temperature. The Seeker wanted the process to be employed globally without any impediments caused by license restrictions.
Because the Seeker wanted a novel, scalable method of manufacturing emulsions, the creative and diverse team suggested a new method that was higher quality, and better than extrusion methods used in food and paint, plastics and biodiesels to ceramic powders and metal alloys.
After extensive research on the latest applications, the team targeted a method to meet various product specifications, creating uniform particles and offering high precision control over size, bulk density, and degree of crystallinity.
The team recommended doing the initial feasibility and optimization tests in a small lab so that finding the optimal configuration is low cost compared to the cost of scaling up to the production level. They also identified potential patentable opportunities by developing new uses for devices that have been patented.
Great advances have been made in the lab using diagnostic and pharmacological biomarkers, but there has been little progress in identifying clinically useful predictive biomarkers for solid tumors or for healthy states. In pharmaceutical drug development projects, most biomarkers are exploratory research tools.
Biomarkers are measurable medical signs (such as blood chemistry, blood pressure) that indicate a body’s response to a chemical or other biological interaction. Using biomarkers, scientists can also predict potential for disease, but reading complex data properly requires careful trials. Biomarker assays should deliver reliable information for making data-driven decisions in the question-based drug development process.
The team outlined the steps in optimal clinical trial design. A key decision in biomarker discovery is what to biomark such as cell death or a specific molecule. Then researchers select a suitable analytical method and validation level. The group also completed research on whether biomarkers could be used for positive selection traits (such as health, vigor, size) instead of the more common diagnostic identifiers of disease states. In the clinic, biomarkers can be used to facilitate precision in cancer diagnosis. The team’s comprehensive report explored predictive biomarkers, potentially the most useful for clinical decision-making. They looked at the potential for developing combinations of biomarkers for a more accurate diagnosis.
A serious healthcare issue, Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes infection among weakened patients in hospitals and care facilities. C. difficile spores are transferred from a contaminated surface to patients often through a healthcare worker’s hands, and current hygiene solutions are ineffective at eliminating this problem.
The company was looking for an advanced technology capable of reducing C. difficile be used in healthcare as a hand and/or whole body hygiene product. In addition, the solution must be safe for skin (non-irritating, non-toxic, and non-sensitizing) and suitable for daily use.
The team presented a number of solutions to the Seeker, outlining a variety of advanced methods that may radically decrease the C.difficile outbreaks. The team explored solutions for identifying, capturing, killing and removing infection spores.
The team recommended working with commercially available nanoparticles to capture and remove C. difficile spores in a healthcare setting. Based on its research, the team suggested a number of creative ways – through clothing or handheld devices – to apply the nanoparticles coated with antibodies.
How to store food longer has always been a challenge. New forms of packaging impermeable to oxygen and moisture have revolutionized food preservation. But the materials used to extend a product’s shelf life still present problems. Some coatings are considered environmentally harmful and carcinogenic. These coatings are slowly being replaced with materials that are more environmentally friendly but less than ideal since they are moisture sensitive.
The diverse team was a group of veteran scientists and engineers with bench and pilot plant experience in industry. The members identified a coating material, based on public domain research including patent literature, knowledge and experience of the team members in organic and polymer chemistry, food packaging and surface coating. They suggested experimenting with an innovative method of delivery using a recommended film as the barrier material to achieve the air and water-resistant properties. Finally, the team outlined the proper lab testing research necessary and suggested the Seeker consider patent protection on this new and potentially lucrative development.
In large-scale plant breeding, creating doubled haploids (DH) through artificial production is a valuable technique. The Seeker wanted to get detailed and actionable suggestions to improve the current methods and increase yield for the company’s cucumber plants.
The team came up with a series of optimal solutions to improve the plant breeding outcomes. Their research revealed the best techniques for improving the number of embryo-like structures formed in initial culturing, and maintaining DH plants in vitro without flowering. The final report included suggestions on reducing the labor-intensive nature of transferring cucumber slices to new growing media.
They also analyzed grafting procedures that can change not only the timing of flowering and the quality of fruits, but may influence the proliferation of reproductive cells and tissues. The right scion/ rootstock combinations can create faster-growing and more vigorous varieties. All these recommendations gave the Seeker a valuable research foundation for increased productivity.
After a serious injury, people find it a challenge – both mental and physical – to restore their muscular ability. The Seeker wanted our teams to explore how technology could help patients in rehabilitation.
The team identified an ingenious technology – virtual reality – that could simulate walking by accentuating the slightest leg movement. With their legs hooked up to a monitor, the patients could make animated figures ‘walk’ by moving their own legs, creating a psychological incentive to keep training. The international team even built a prototype with a video of the whole operation.
The contamination of Bangladesh's groundwater with naturally occurring arsenic is the biggest mass poisoning in history. Approximately 20 million people, mostly living in poor, rural areas are exposed to the dangerous element in their drinking water. It causes a range of health issues, including skin discoloration, cancer, lesions and lifelong kidney and liver problems.
Current methods for arsenic testing, such as Merck strips are prohibitively expensive for Bangladesh's poorest regions. Additionally, many people living in these areas have little or no education and are unable to carry out complex testing procedures with accuracy and confidence.
To find a way forward, SolverTeams.com teamed up with Chemists Without Borders, a non-profit organization focused on solving humanitarian problems. Small challenge teams, each comprised of five SolverTeam problem Solvers from different disciplines put their heads together to come up with brilliant solutions.
One of the most brilliant was a straightforward and inexpensive acoustic biosensor that consists of a biological element (either bacteria or enzymes) that is very sensitive to arsenate and arsenite in drinking water. The system is so easy to handle that children as young as seven years of age can use it.
SolverTeams was selected to find a better way to administer children’s oral medications. It’s a tricky problem that has vexed industry experts for years. And as any parent knows, it can be difficult to give a sick child a spoonful of strong-tasting medicine.
The company wanted a drug delivery platform technology that avoided such unpleasant experiences as bad taste, smell, mouth feel and texture. The technology could not have an unfavorable effect on the degree and rate at which the medicine is absorbed – essentially, they wanted the perfect pediatric platform.
The winning solution is an innovative drug delivery platform that moves the medication to the back of the mouth, bypassing the tongue’s flavour receptors. The award-winning team didn’t come up with a completely new idea, but it was an improvement to a previous dosing device.
Scientists around the world have been trying to solve the challenge of feeding a growing world population while using less land in more efficient ways. The agriculture industry has been under increasing pressure to innovate in a changing and more competitive business climate.
The company’s open innovation partner, SolverTeams.com, put together teams of experts from adjacent fields, including pharmaceuticals, to work on the problem. “My mantra for business survival in the biotechnology sphere is unlearn, transform, reinvent,” said the company’s head of product development. “Embracing change and continuous learning are critical. Not taking risks is risky business.”
Using crowdsourced experts placed into virtual teams, the company achieved remarkable results and earned prestigious awards. The multi-phased project resulted in a set of tools that use innovative big data techniques, advanced mathematics and new technologies to develop crops with a higher yield. Team solutions guided breeders on various critical steps such parent and progeny selection and planting strategies.
The new mathematical tools developed by the teams dramatically improved decision making and planning. “Before we began using these tools, we realized that an average annual increase in yield across our seed varieties was about 0.8 bushels per acre,” he said. “That average is now closer to 2.5 bushels per acre.”
In the deli food business, muscle meats are treated with a solution of water-soluble ingredients prior to cooking. the Seeker came to us to find a novel theoretical solution without changing the cooking or injection process.
The key challenge was that water-soluble ingredients left the meat product with the water rather than remaining in the meat system during cooking. The result was that ingredients were dispersed unevenly, causing undesirable flavor and safety outcomes. As a result, the Seeker wanted a solution that was low cost, used less brine solution, dispersed the ingredients safely, didn’t change the flavor or aroma and had natural ingredients that were USDA approved and consumer label friendly.
The team researched three distinct methods that could be used separately, or in concert, to help reduce brine use and meet all the Seeker’s goals. The team offered a detailed approach that involved sealing the meat, thickening the brine by adding insoluble fibre or reducing the density of the brine through micro-aeration, all identified as a methods that could improve muscle meat cooking production.