Humans of Alberta Innovation: Dr. Christian Jacob

Take a look at the people behind the research, product, company or groundbreaking discovery. The ASTech Foundation’s Humans of Alberta Innovation campaign shows a new side to Alberta’s fascinating innovation community — the human one.

Dr. Christian Jacob is the director of the LINDSAY Virtual Human Project, which won the 2015 Innovation in Information and Communications Technology Award. The LINDSAY team uses virtual imaging technologies to help teach human anatomy in new and exciting ways.

I’m Not a Typical Computer Scientist 

Growing up, I wanted to become a Latin teacher. I liked Latin as a very algorithmic language, almost mathematical.

I moved to Calgary in two stages. In 1996, I was looking for someone working in plant simulation because I did my PhD in plant growth programs. We would see how a tree grows, or how the petals fall off flowers and then combine it with an evolutionary program. I connected with a graphics prof at the University of Calgary and that brought me here as a post doctoral fellow. Then, the computer science department had openings which brought me to U of C in 1999 as an assistant professor. I was just going to try it out for two or three years to see how I liked it. I really liked the university and the colleagues; it was a young department and I found some good research projects. That’s why I stayed and why I’m still here.

I’m not a typical computer scientist; I’ve always looked at the computer as a think tool and nothing more. I was first interested in biology because of the brain. I did my diploma thesis on building artificial neural networks. I wanted to know how neurons work, how the brain works and how much of this can be transferred to computers as think tools, to help classify patterns and understand speech.

Eventually I got into simulating immune systems. Suddenly I was inside the body and looking at physiology and how the immune system reacts to viruses and bacteria. Then an offer came to start this LINDSAY Virtual Human Project which led me to work with medical students and researchers.

I’m a very graphical person: I must see and illustrate things. The constant development of technology has always fueled my interest in computer science. It went from different user interfaces where there’s just a mouse and a keyboard to touch screens and portable iPads that could react to my input.

When we ventured into 3D, we could put these augmented reality glasses on. Now we can literally enter digital worlds; and bring virtual worlds, that are trapped behind the screen, into the real world and combine them. All this technology innovation helped create the things I only imagined we could do a few years earlier.

With the LINDSAY Virtual Human Project, there’s always an opportunity to build the next prototype. Suddenly I had a project that was integrated into a medical school, and I had to really pay attention to the details regarding medical education, human physiology and anatomy. It’s still being used to train medical students at U of C, which is really cool. I also get to work with a lot of awesome people from other disciplines outside of computer science, including medical educators, physiologists, medical doctors, physicians and the artists and designers who make the program look good. That’s changed my life as a scientist, being on that inter-disciplinary side of computer science.

The Giant Walkthrough Brain added to that. Jay Ingram is a fabulous science communicator and working with him was a great experience. I had to rethink how to present content from a stage, not for an expert audience. Now we had to consider music, stage lighting, a script and we had to set up this giant walkthrough brain with hallways and signs, like a movie set. As a scientist, that was very exciting because I learned how to sell my science. We explained to people how the human brain works and then we told stories through the computer tool. This has changed my perspective on how to sell and promote science.

I’m excited to venture even more into story telling, especially around the human body; people learn well through stories. Now computer games are the vehicles to create engaging stories. In the end, I hope I can keep inspiring students.

Humans of Alberta Innovation: Chris Micetich

Take a look at the people behind the research, product, company or groundbreaking discovery. The ASTech Foundation’s Humans of Alberta Innovation campaign shows a new side to Alberta’s fascinating innovation community — the human one.

This week we introduce Chris Micetich, president and CEO of Fedora Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is the 2015 Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Alberta Science and Technology Award Winner. The small remote pharmaceutical team leveraged success into a $750m sale for life-saving drugs. 

All along the way, we had way more nay-sayers than yea-sayers

When I was a kid, I knew my father was a scientist but that was all I knew about his career. When I got to university, working in my father’s lab as a summer job, I started to understand more of what he was doing. It wasn’t until I joined him to create a new company and work alongside him that I truly understood the magnitude of his work.

My father invented a drug called Tazobactam, which is a beta lactamase inhibitor. It combines with an antibiotic to make that antibiotic more effective. He suffered a stroke in 2005 in Los Angeles and while in a coma in the hospital, he developed a lung infection. Under normal circumstances, this would kill any patient it effected. With my family all present, the nurse told us not to worry because they had this miracle drug called Tazobactam. I told the nurse that my father invented that drug. She didn’t believe me. But after confirming it, she posted articles about him everywhere. They called him Dr. Taz for the remainder of his time there.

I am passionate about a lot of things, including creating new drugs that will save lives. I also enjoy mentoring entrepreneurs to help take their business to the next level. I never really had an opportunity to pursue that passion until recently. My first year of university was in Science specializing in chemistry. It’s ironic that I really didn’t enjoy chemistry, but I’ve been running a chemistry-based company for 30 years! I joined my father in 1987 to help him start up a pharmaceutical company and I haven’t looked back since. Since that time, I’ve founded six different companies including the most recent, Fedora Pharmaceuticals.

In 2010, when we were looking for a new discovery program to chase, I had my team focus on a new beta lactamase inhibitor that would potentially one day replace my father’s drug. We came up with something found to be much better than Tazobactam. I spun the project into a new company, raised money, advanced the drug into the clinic and then signed the largest licensing deal in Canadian biomedical history to Hoffman-La Roche. Phase 2 clinical trials are underway and all is looking promising. We hope to see our drug on the market in due course.

It was very rewarding for our team that was involved in that deal, particularly since some were also involved in the discovery of Tazobactam. Discovering a drug and going right through development to market and then save lives is incredible!  We take great pride in that and there’s not much more you can ask for in this industry.

Taking an early stage program that originated in my head, convincing a research team to buy into the vision and then convincing people to invest was not easy. All along the way, we had way more nay-sayers than yea-sayers. It was a very difficult but rewarding experience to convince people to buy in to what we were trying to accomplish and then actually deliver. I hope before I retire to discover and license another life-saving drug for a big pharmaceutical company to take to market.

Humans of Alberta Innovation: Jessica Luc

Take a look at the people behind the research, product, company or groundbreaking discovery. The ASTech Foundation’s Humans of Alberta Innovation campaign shows a new side to Alberta’s fascinating innovation community — the human one.

This week we introduce Jessica Luc. A Finalist for the 2016 Leaders of Tomorrow award, Jessica divides her time between medical studies, non-profit organizations she founded and entrepreneurial pursuits. Find out what’s keeping her from pursuing a career as an astronaut.

Jessica LucCreativity and fear cannot co-exist

My path to medicine was not a straight one. I was a really ambitious kid and for me there was no limit – I actually first wanted to be an astronaut so I could venture outside Earth and make discoveries to benefit the human race. However, after travelling to Disney World and going to the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow where I tried the astronaut simulation, I knew deep down that I was not built for G-force swirls and turns. Motion sickness settled in along with a twist in my career goal.

I have always been a curious person and believe that one new idea — or new twist on an old idea — could launch us to the next level. Creativity and fear cannot co-exist, so I compete only with myself with the objective of being better today than I was yesterday.

Because I am passionate about science and the arts, pursuing a medical career means I can tackle humanity’s greatest challenges and hopefully affect social change. The research I am doing is focused on ex vivo organ perfusion and its potential to preserve, resuscitate and repair damaged donor organs for transplantation. I spend hours and hours in the research lab and I fail nine times out of ten. But I believe that all these failures have taught me that you cannot fail unless you quit. I believe that we “try again, fail again, fail better” as Samuel Beckett said, and setbacks are simply set-ups for comebacks and opportunities to learn and grow.

I have been a victim of bullying and having a good friend with eating disorders, so I co-founded a non-profit organization called Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful. Our motto is “Be (You) tiful”. Our goal is to raise awareness about eating disorders and bullying while we deconstruct society’s perceptions of beauty. We aren’t victims of circumstance, but rather our inner world determines our outer world. We ultimately have the power to create our own opportunities and happiness. I hope that I am able to make circumstances better for those who come after me. I also teach piano and mentor other budding individuals interested in medicine.

Despite likely never overcoming my motion sickness to make it to space, I continue to enjoy opportunities to effect change in the space industry. Working with a multidisciplinary team, I am part of the AlbertaSat initiative at the University of Alberta. We built a nanosatellite that was launched into space by NASA to conduct research experiments. I am also passionate about 3D printing and I am part of a medical makers’ community to produce 3D printable medical supplies for affordable healthcare in remote communities. The fact is the discovery of a truth in an unrelated subject could easily be transferred to a current problem, as there is a certain level of relativity and relationship to the order of things.

I believe that everyone should reach for the stars while keeping their feet on the ground. None of my accomplishments would have been possible without my parents, supporters and mentors who believed in me and gave me a chance to fly.

Announcing three newly sponsored awards!

The ASTechNAIT Awards recognize the innovative achievements of remarkable individuals, companies and organizations who have made significant impacts in Alberta’s science and technology community. The ASTech Awards are possible because of the generosity from our industry and institution sponsors.

New this year, NAIT has stepped-up to sponsor three awards, the Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Science and Technology Award, the Outstanding Leadership in Alberta Technology Award and the JR Shaw School of Business at NAIT is providing sponsorship for the Outstanding Science and Technology Start-up Award.

“At NAIT, we think as Alberta industry looks forward to recovering from the downturn, the role of innovation is the number one opportunity to move the province forward,” said Dr. Chris Dambrowitz, NAIT’s Associate Vice President of Research and Innovation. “By celebrating these awards, we celebrate the leaders who have contributed to technology innovation in our major industries and have driven technology to becoming commercially impactful.”

“We’re grateful that NAIT is sponsoring three awards and it is particularly fantastic that the startup community has the opportunity to win a $10,000 award, which can be very beneficial when launching a new business,” said Sue McMaster, ASTech Foundation Executive Director. “We are delighted with the support from all of our sponsors this year.”

We would like to thank the other five sponsors who have continued their long-term commitment to Alberta innovation through the ASTech Awards.

Thanks to SAIT, Dow AgroSciences Canada Ltd., TELUS, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Alberta Economic Development and Trade and NAIT, the 2017 ASTech Awards will invest $80,000 back into the Alberta science and technology community through cash prizes.

To submit a nomination for the 2017 ASTech Awards, click here.

Introducing Humans of Alberta Innovation

Take a look at the people behind the research, product, company or groundbreaking discovery. The ASTech Foundation’s Humans of Alberta Innovation campaign shows a new side to Alberta’s fascinating innovation community — the human one.

For the next eight weeks we will post a story about from our ASTech Award Winners and Finalists. Students, professionals or anyone looking to become inspired by the people behind the work can check out Humans of Alberta Innovation each Wednesday.

This week, meet Glen Kathler.Glen Kathler

The 2015 Winner of the Innovation in Agriculture Science Award, sponsored by Dow AgroSciences Canada, tells the story of of his childhood fascination with taking apart and rebuilding electronics and how it led to him innovating Radio Frequency Identification in the Alberta cattle industry through his role as SAIT’s RFID research lead.

I’m not afraid to go where there are no footprints.

My glass is always pretty much half full. In my line of work, it’s always like, “Okay, it’s not that I can’t do what you’ve asked me to do, but I just haven’t quite figured out how.” I am always looking for a solution to a problem. I’m not afraid to go where there are no footprints. It’s definitely not a very linear path to success. I’ve always been a pretty good listener, so when someone describes a problem they’re having, I’m not in a rush to tell them, “this is what you have to do.” It’s more of a “here are some of the solutions we should look at.” Sometimes, there literally are no footprints. One of my jobs as a young technical fellow was to drive the snowcat up the mountain in the winter to do repairs at radio sites. Most of the time, you could not actually see where you were going; it was foggy, snowy, maybe a blizzard, but you still had to get there.

From the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve always been fascinated by the opportunity of solving problems with technology. I was probably seven or eight years old. My dad was a radio and television repairman in his spare time, so there were always things for us to take apart. There was no shortage of large electronic equipment that he wanted for spare parts, and he said, “I’ll pay you to take them all apart”. I realized as I started taking them all apart that I knew how they went together. Suddenly, it was like, “I could actually build something!” By the time I was eight or nine, I had built an AM radio – which may sound kind of antiquated – and an actual burglar alarm out of spare parts. I scared the daylights out of my mom with the alarm, because it was designed to prevent anybody from coming into my bedroom unannounced, and it just so happened that she was the first.

I also liked anything related to antennas. I climbed up on top of the garage and built an antenna, because my little AM radio didn’t have quite the range that I wanted. My parents gave me that creative license and said, “well, he hasn’t broken too much, he hasn’t hurt any of his brothers or sisters, so let’s just keep letting him play with this stuff.”

I did not grow up on a farm but I lived in small farming communities in southern Manitoba. I have a love for the outdoors, so when the opportunity to work in agriculture came along, something immediately resonated. I am passionate about technology, and through certain opportunities, I’ve gained a passion for Alberta agriculture. Right now, I’m working on tracking animals and locating and identifying them by using drone and RFID technology.

I love being paid to do my hobby. I have a business card from around 1983; it said: “The Innovators.” Innovation for me is a way of life and I’m very passionate about the research.

New Sign Boosts Promotion of Alberta Innovation

2016 ASTech AwardsAt ASTech our mission is to identify and celebrate outstanding achievements in science and technology in Alberta. We accomplish this through our many events, which are only possible because of our generous Sustaining Members.

Increasing awareness of Alberta innovation is a big part of how we celebrate science and technology through our annual ASTech Awards and NextGen Innovators Showcase. In order to support our mission, we recently installed a brand new sign in the Innovate Calgary building.

The sign features information about the ASTech Foundation, our  ASTech Award winners, and our Sustaining Members. Placed in the heart of the Innovate Calgary lobby it will be seen by hundreds of innovators and industry professionals every day, and will increase awareness around Alberta’s innovation leaders.