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Innovation Vouchers
June 27, 2013   
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Several young researchers in the western city of Poznań have received special Innovation Vouchers to buy research equipment and expert advice from seasoned scientists as part of a program run by the Academic Innovation and Technology Transfer Center (SCITT).

The program, co-financed by the European Union under its European Social Fund, covers three universities in the city, the Poznań University of Life Sciences, the Adam Mickiewicz University, and the Poznań University of Technology.

The Academic Innovation and Technology Transfer Center aims to help young scientists by matching them with businessmen willing to invest in their research ideas and potential. The idea behind Innovation Vouchers is to relieve young scientists of the burden of looking for investors ready to finance their research projects so that they can fully focus on research work. Innovation Vouchers are special vouchers that enable students to purchase expert advice and services from research and development centers as well as make purchases related to their project.

One of the Innovation Voucher winners, Mariusz Dziadas, is a Ph.D. student at the Poznań University of Life Sciences’ Faculty of Food Science and Nutrition. Thanks to the support of the SCITT, he has been able to focus on his project, which involves research into what are called isotopically labeled compounds. These chemical substances have been used by analytical laboratories for a long time—most often in the form of deuterium-labeled compounds—but they are not widely available because of their high price tags. Dziadas has developed an innovative method for the synthesis of isotopically labeled compounds to enable simpler and faster determination of the content of chemical substances in finished products such as food, cosmetics and medicines—for example, the content of paracetamol in pills or how much caffeine there is in energy drinks. His method is innovative because it makes it possible to synthesize a variety of chemical compounds in a simpler and cheaper way than with traditional methods.

To make sure that the content of an active substance in a product is at an appropriate level, laboratory quality analysis is usually conducted to estimate the content of ingredients, often with labor-intensive methods. Dziadas’s method is simpler and more cost-effective because it is based on the use of deuterium instead of ordinary hydrogen. Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is an isotope of hydrogen whose nucleus has double the mass of the nucleus of ordinary hydrogen. With this method, analytical laboratories can perform qualitative analysis in a much simpler, cheaper and more accurate way. In the case of testing food samples, such studies could be up to five times cheaper than traditional methods.

Dziadas has carried out his research with funding from the Student Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer, which supports the innovative ideas of undergraduate and doctoral students by taking advantage of the potential of universities and institutions such as business incubators.

Other Innovation Voucher winners in Poznań include Leszek Broniarek, Jakub Buda and Mateusz Hoppe, three second-year master’s-level biotechnology students from the Faculty of Agriculture and Bioengineering at the Poznań University of Life Sciences. They have invented a cost-effective method to accelerate ethanol fermentation. The method could be used in biotechnology on an industrial scale, according to the researchers. It is based on using mechanical waves to stimulate industrial microbial cells to work faster and thus significantly reduce the time of fermentation.

The young researchers plan to build a prototype of a device to apply their method on an industrial scale. The method relies on the use of so-called distillers’ yeast, but the researchers are also checking if other microorganisms could work for them. They will soon begin looking for an investor among Polish distilleries and ethanol producers in Western Europe. Meanwhile, they are working to improve their method and increase the number of possible applications of their invention, including those in the dairy industry. They also want to try out their method in large bioreactors. They are thinking of starting their own business to sell their research results in the future.

Yet another Innovation Voucher recipient, Filip Porzucek, is a doctoral student at the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology of the Poznań University of Life Sciences. His research involves the development of dietary supplements and foods containing lunasin to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Lunasin is a small protein found in relatively large amounts in soybean seeds. It is believed to help prevent the excessive cell division characteristic of cancer processes. Porzucek’s idea is innovative because most other researchers have focused on developing methods for inhibiting or reversing the cancer process once it has already begun, while Porzucek’s method focuses on prevention—it aims to stop the tumor from growing. The product is intended for use in people’s daily diet. It may eventually lead to a situation in which a single pill will be enough to replace six glasses of soy milk a day, for example, to provide the body with an optimal dose of lunasin.

Porzucek is currently working to develop the technology for obtaining a protein with high lunasin content. The young scientist has also begun in vitro tests on tumor cell lines. For the time being, the results are not spectacular, but they are promising, Porzucek says. His idea has attracted the interest of a Polish biotechnology company, which should enable him to move beyond the laboratory stage and work on a larger scale.

Agnieszka Dokowicz
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