Humans of Alberta Innovation: Dr. Ryan Tucker

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. Ryan Tucker is the 2015 Leaders of Tomorrow Winner for leading an applied research team that helps create and take new products to market for environmental protection, water treatment, and sustainable construction.

It’s all about trying to make an opportunity for yourself in whatever situation you’re in.

Growing up I was much like many kids where I wanted to be a fireman, or an architect. Understanding what a career is when you’re young, it’s a wacky thing, especially for those still in school. I’ve always enjoyed science and technology. I was interested in how things work and what goes into making things operate. Even as a kid I would always take things apart around the house and I was really fascinated with the concept of inventing something.

My fascination with how things work got me interested in science and technology. The next part was opportunity. It’s all about finding out what opportunities exist and working towards them. Once I got to university, I realized I actually had some skill at this and there were some things I could do to have a career in science and technology. Innovation is happening globally and I’ll always try to find a spot to become a part of it. It’s everywhere; it’s the only thing that’s going to make my children’s lives different than my own. My new gauge of success is how can my work have a positive impact on a larger number of people?

I had the opportunity to live in the Netherlands to work in science, which was really cool. On the weekends, I had a motorcycle so having the freedom to roam around and time do to it was the greatest blessing. I really valued that. When I travel, whether it be for work or pleasure, anywhere I can find a science centre or technology museum, you’ll find me there.

In terms of experimental infrastructure and research infrastructure, we have a lot of great facilities in Alberta. On the education front, we train good scientists, engineers and technologists. There are some companies that are truly innovating on a global scale, but we need more. Being ready to try to move towards a global level of innovation is something they should be ready to do. The first job you get may not be working for NASA, or actually working at the forefront of science and technology, but there’s an opportunity over your career to bring what you’re working on closer to true innovation.

I had job offers that I chose not to take because I wanted to stay in Alberta. There’s a big opportunity here to take the time to progress our industry and broaden the spectrum. Our universities are great and I think it’s worthwhile to stay and try to push the envelope. Any young innovator who’s starting their career in Alberta should seek out those who also find value in staying and building something here. It’s not going to happen in one company or with one person; it’s a group of people within a vast industry that strive for success.

It’s all about trying to make an opportunity for yourself in whatever situation you’re in. I’ve always been interested in working in the energy and water sectors; they’re becoming the biggest technological issues in this generation. I’m in the early stages of a project right now working with another company and the University of Alberta. We’re using world-class technology from the industrial side and academic side for water treatment. It will be really exciting to see how far we can advance the technology in the next few years. Going from how technology works in a lab to implementing it in real life situations is the most interesting part of innovation for me.

Humans of Alberta Innovation: Dr. Mayank Goyal

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. Mayank Goyal won the 2016 Outstanding Leadership in Alberta Technology Award for improving the outcome of stroke patients. His latest innovations, the multiphase computed tomography angiogram (mCTA) and the Brisk Recanalization Ischemic Stroke Kit (BRISK), are vastly improving stroke treatment.

I was always a science and technology kid

Innovation does not happen overnight. Over the last 10 to 12 years, I have focused my life on producing the research into how the brain vessels work, and then how to optimize diagnoses, workflow, procedures and how to open the vessel fast.

We work to improve patient outcomes. One of the big limitations was the imaging. You do a CT scan to figure out if the patient is having a stroke and to find the blockage. It was taking too long. I was struggling to come up with an idea to make the imaging procedure faster, and make it easier for residents and fellows in training to diagnose things faster. That’s when I came up with the multi-phase CTA. It was implemented in some of the largest trials around the world and has been used in at least 50 centres. The old method would sometimes take upwards of 20 to 40 minutes to diagnose a stroke. At our facility, we can get the imaging done and have a diagnosis in about five minutes. It makes it very easy to make a decision and move on to the next step.

Our team is focused on making stroke care better around the world. Recently I was in Australia and I went to eight different centres to help them optimize their stroke care. Last week I was in India. That ability to influence change around the world through research and innovation is a very satisfying part of my life.

I was always a science and technology kid. To come up with relevant and useful ideas, it took years and years of experience and understanding of the subject, identifying a problem, and coming up with a solution. I tell my students, “if you want to do it the easy stuff and come up with the structure of an atom, you needed to be born 200 years ago. All the easy stuff has been done.” We are left with the not-so-easy stuff.

When I was in medical school, I was most interested in the brain. I felt like it was the last frontier, in which we have the least amount of understanding. I was inspired by my peers, who shared the same passion. We have a super strong group on the stroke team, and I’m proud to be part of it. We all push each other, and all perform at a very high level. Building the right team and surrounding yourself with intelligent people who are passionate about the same things is a really important part of success.

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.

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.