TRENT Magazine Excerpt: Alumnus Dr. Andressa Lacerda and Noblegen Both Start Up With Exceptional Results.

Noble Gen Header from Trent Magazine

Dr. Andressa Lacerda '08, a founding partner of Noblegen, and a talented researcher and Trent PhD graduate, graced the cover of the summer TRENT Magazine. We also featured Trent Research and Innovation Park tenant, Noblegen, and how this Trent-based start-up is using biomaterials for both water purification and ecologically sustainable consumer products. Link to the stories, below.

 

As always, the full magazine is available online. Check out all of our back issues here.

Also in the edition:

  • Alumnus and naturalist Drew Monkman '71 writes about the spread of the highly invasive round goby -- and how its invasion of the Trent-Severn waterway may currently be stopped in Peterborough's Little Lake
  • Alumnus Mark Davidson ’79 (former director for Citizen and Immigration Canada) and Faculty member Haroon Akram-Lodhi (Department of International Development Studies) discuss how immigration is (or isn't) affecting the social and economic status quo of Canada and Canadians (full article here)
  • Professor Stephen Brown recalls Stuart McLean's various visits to Trent -- and his time as writer in residence (full article here)
  • Alumnus Dr. Spencer J Harrison '97 (Ontario director of Camp fYrely, Canada’s only national camp for sexual and gender minority youth and their allies) reflects on the myriad issues surrounding trans culture and trans life

 

Andressa Lacerda ’08: Entrepreneur, Award-Winning Researcher, Mentor

At the age of 27, and just two years removed from graduating with her Ph.D., Andressa Lacerda is already in mid-career stride. As executive VP and co-founder of Noblegen, a biomaterials start-up valued at $50 million, she is looking forward to the construction of the company’s new 50,000-square-foot production facility in the new Trent Research and Innovation Park—set to begin this spring. She has co-authored six publications and is a co-inventor on two US patents. During her doctoral work, Dr. Lacerda unlocked the genetic code behind Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases known to humans. She’s accomplished more in a few short years than many will in a lifetime.

A native of Brazil, Dr. Lacerda first came to Trent as an undergraduate student in 2008. “I chose Trent because it was a small university that welcomed international students, and a place where I thought I could make a difference,” she recalls. “At a larger university I would have been just another face, but at Trent I’ve had close proximity to professors who have provided support and encouragement, and I’ve been given opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.”

After graduating in 2011 with a B.Sc. in Biology and specialization in Health Sciences, Dr. Lacerda continued on to receive her M.Sc. with her research on why mutations of LITAF protein cause the genetic Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Because of her advanced level of research, she was fast tracked to the Ph.D. Environmental and Life Sciences program. Working with Trent biology professor Craig Brunetti and undergraduate Biochemistry student Emily Hartjes, Dr. Lacerda helped produce new findings that could have far-reaching effects on the diagnosis and treatment of CMT, which affects 1 out of every 2,500 people.

Undertaking graduate-level research with real and exciting implications for medical treatments was a wonderful opportunity for her. “For a while, I was the only one at Trent doing this type of research on human-related diseases at the cellular level,” she notes. “It was very exciting for me to finally see all this work in one paper, and to have this work coming out of Trent. Trent is known for having an amazing Environmental and Life Sciences program, but people don’t always realize that the University also has the capacity for this type of research. Being part of that with my own research was amazing.”

In 2011, Dr. Lacerda met Adam Noble, a Lakefield high school student. He was preparing a science fair project examining the use of the freshwater algae euglena to remove the nanosilver particles from water.

“Adam thought that nanosilver could potentially be used to cure cancer and his research shifted from environmental to health sciences,” she explains. “He also found that nanosilver might kill viruses, such as Frog Virus 3, which is contributing to worldwide amphibian decline. I was asked to show him how to use a confocal microscope so he could examine how nanosilver was entering into trout and frog embryos, and eventually suggested that I could teach him how to take his research to the cellular level.”

Mr. Noble’s project, Silver Nano-Particle Theory: A New Cure for Cancer, received the Best Project Award at the 2013 Canada-Wide Science Fair. After that, the two became business partners, with a goal of applying Mr. Noble’s award-winning research to industry.

At the outset, Noblegen was known for a unique water technology that applied some of Mr. Noble’s early research. Based on this work Mr. Noble was the youngest recipient of one of Canada’s 2014 Clean50 Awards, which recognizes outstanding work in sustainable development and cleantech, and was also named one of Canada’s Top 20 under 20, which recognizes exceptional leadership, innovation and achievement in youth.

Since then, their combined research and technological developments have expanded Noblegen’s scope to include nutrition, health and biochemicals. The creation of a multi-product platform has expanded their product offering and has allowed them remain agile sector leaders.

While the success of Noblegen has meant that Dr. Lacerda has spent less time in an academic setting, she hopes to return to teaching in the future. She also sees the startup as a place where Trent students will be welcome for research placements.

“Science is much more impactful when it has a practical purpose,” she notes. “And we anticipate learning opportunities for students to be integral to what we do in our new building. It’s been a focus of ours from the outset.”

Meaning that Noblegen will mentor others to reach the level of success Dr. Lacerda has already achieved in her young, but impressive career.

 

Noblegen: Algae-based Research Blooms into a Successful Global Environmental Start-Up

Andressa and Dave in the lab.Sarah McMichael

Noblegen has their roots in algae.

As a 15-year-old, Adam Noble became fascinated with the toxic blue-green algae that was blooming on his family’s lake. An intellectually precocious youth with a passion for the microscopic life that lives in water, he soon began investigating other types of algae, including the then-underutilized and understudied Euglena. It didn’t take long before he was farming colonies of the algae in his parents’ backyard sauna.

His goal was to find a way to use Euglena to purify water.

A high school science fair project he developed, based on his early research and experiments, garnered both attention and awards. It also became the basis for what is now a groundbreaking biomaterials company located in Peterborough—soon to break ground at the new Trent Research and Innovation Park.

Noblegen Inc. is dedicated to finding cost-effective and ecologically sustainable alternatives for regularly used consumer products. From food and beverage to cosmetics to pharmaceuticals, their reach and scope spans both consumer and industry sectors. Focused “on the generations of tomorrow and the environmental challenges of today,” Noblegen harvests microorganisms for commercial use. Their vision is simple: “to make a meaningful difference by delivering inspired biological solutions for some of the world’s greatest problems.”

But you can’t talk about Noblegen Inc. without addressing the brilliance of its 23-year-old CEO. At 18, Mr. Noble won the gold medal at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh. This led to him travelling to the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm to accept the prestigious Dudley R. Herschbach Award for scientific achievement. In 2014 he was named one of Canada’s Top 20 under 20, while becoming one of the youngest recipients of Canada’s Clean50 Awards for work in sustainable development and clean technology. He is known as the highest awarded youth scientist in Canadian history.

It was back in Grade 11, when Mr. Noble was preparing that original science fair project, that he was given access to Trent University aquatic science lab. It was also then that he was introduced to Andressa Lacerda, who was in the process of making a name for herself as she fast-tracked her way through a Ph.D. while shedding light on mutations that caused the genetic Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Originally called on to mentor Mr. Noble, the young grad student soon found that her role was much larger than anticipated.

Working closely, the pair identified ways in which Noble’s research could be applied to consumer and industrial purposes. They young duo formed a business together—Noble Tech—and haven’t looked back since.

But, if you ask Mr. Noble, their story isn’t about age, awards, or the individuals involved in the process. “It’s about the development of sustainable technology and products,” he notes, “and getting them into the hands of global players. We need to find new ways of addressing environmental sustainability and new ways of addressing human health.”

And there is a sense of responsibility associated with his work. “We are talking about generations to come,” he explains. “Our world is something we messed up and we need to bring it back. We have to do whatever we can to make it a more sustainable place.”

Noble introduced the Euglena Biofiltration System in 2014. The concept made use of Euglena’s unique capabilities for purifying wastewater. He also introduced ways in which the biomass could be used to create biofuel, food, and fertilizer. In 2015, Noble’s original work was expanded to a one-million-times scale of the original prototype. As the company grew from its original focus, its name changed with it. Noble Tech Inc. became Noblegen Inc. in 2016, combining their two divisions, Noble Purification and Noble Biotechnology, into one.

The company is now a $50 million start-up, and grows bigger and and more diverse every year. It has a staff of over 30, including engineers and scientists—many of whom are Trent grads. Last year, Mr. Noble was recognized by Startup Canada as Canada’s best young entrepreneur of the year.

“I think it’s a really big step for us,” he said at the time. “We’re way beyond science and research now—we’re here to generate revenue. This award is validating that.”

Mr. Noble and Dr. Lacerda are hardly working in isolation. While their projects may be groundbreaking on a global scale, they continue to partner with local organizations and institutions. Trent University, Fleming College, Peterborough Economic Development, and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster have all contributed to Noblegen’s success. The contribution, it should be noted, is reciprocated. “It’s very important to me that we are true to our roots,” says Mr. Noble. “And that we give back to the community that helped us get to where we are today.”

The Trent connection is an obvious one. Mr. Noble’s early research took place in Trent labs and was nurtured by (now vice-president of research and innovation) Dr. Neil Emery. Today, Noblegen works out of the DNA Building on the East Bank of Trent; next year they will break ground as a cornerstone tenant of the brand new Trent Research and Innovation Park.

When it eventually opens, the nearly $100 million, 117,000-square-foot facility will be the largest of its kind in North America. It will focus on wastewater treatment and with the creation of products for both nutritional and pharmaceutical sectors. The new facility will create another 22 jobs in Peterborough. Keeping to Noblegen’s local ethic, the facility will be built by a local company, using 96% local content.

Like the first strands of algae that Mr. Noble cultured, this growth will take place in his own (figurative) backyard. While he and his technologies are quickly becoming known around the world, he is content with keeping it in the place it all began. It’s a global success story that celebrates its homegrown origins.

“We are going to change the way the world treats water and we want to do that right here in Peterborough,” Mr. Noble says. “We have an aggressive growth strategy that will help us become the green tech leader in this field. Noblegen was incubated in the community and we want to build on our foundation in this region while creating jobs and growing the green economy.”

Editor's note:

Just last month Noblegen announces the opening of its series B round of financing after the closing of a successful series A round that saw the firm raise $9.5 million in private investment.

The Funds raised in 2016 were used to build the company's first commercial scale production facility to meet the growing demand for sustainable and affordable food. These funds also allowed the firm to expand the size of their team from 4 to over 40 people, including two new executive positions, in order to further support its aggressive growth strategy.

Noblegen anticipates raising up to $50 million during this second round of financing which will close within the next six months. This new investment will be used to support the commercialization of Noblegen’s products, continue research and development, and to grow its production and refining capacity.

Noblegen will grow its sales team in order to effectively capture market share and become a leading industry ingredient supplier. Continued expansion of Noblegen’s research and development will support cutting-edge innovation in the food and beverage industry.
Noblegen’s innovative, sustainable and cost-efficient algae-based proteins and oils has the company poised to become a global leader in the biotechnology field.

Trent Research and Innovation Park

Research Park MapCanada is home to 26 research and innovation parks, each with their own scope or focus. The vision for the Trent Research and Innovation Park (TRIP) is to become Canada’s premier green technology research and innovation site, hosting a cluster of companies and start-up enterprises in environmentally-focused fields including clean technology, environmental services, advanced material sciences, biotechnology, agri-food, and agri-business, to name a few.

TRIP will offer the potential to not only capitalize on and commercialize the environmental research strengths of Trent University, but also create opportunities for co-op placements and employment for Trent students and graduates. The partnership between Trent and the City of Peterborough is integral to expanding opportunities by enhancing a focus on entrepreneurship, supporting start-ups, attracting new businesses to the Peterborough region, providing future jobs for students and Peterborough residents, and leveraging and expanding research partnerships at the University.

“The planning process for the establishment of the Research Park has been an extraordinary collaboration between Trent, the City of Peterborough and Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development,” says John Knight, the manager of research partnerships for Trent. “We share a vision on the potential for Peterborough leadership in a green economy, and the importance of enabling and supporting clean technology companies in our community.”

Trent University has set aside 85 acres of land for TRIP. This area was first identified in the 2006 Endowment Lands Master Plan and supported by the 2013 Trent Lands Plan. The creation of a research park at Trent was limited in the past due to the lack of municipal services on Trent’s East Bank. The City of Peterborough has recently agreed to extend servicing to the park to realize the many benefits of this development.

It will be located just down the road from the recently opened ball diamonds and planned arena complex at the northwest corner of Pioneer Road and Ninth Line, respecting nature areas and existing topography, and maintaining both the natural wetland and the creek bed currently in the area. There are plans to integrate nature corridors and green spaces throughout the park, reflecting Trent’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.

Following six design principles, TRIP will:

  • be integrated with Trent’s main campus physically, visually and socially
  • foster an innovation community culture encouraging social interaction and collaboration in all seasons
  • be a leader in sustainable design
  • be based on a design strategy that is landscape-led to maintain natural features and existing topography
  • be flexible to accommodate a range of enterprises and uses in a unique setting
  • be well-connected to the city, county and region

As is the goal for any development on Trent’s Endowment Lands, TRIP will provide experiential learning and employment for students, forge new research partnerships, create a revenue stream for the University, and bring economic development to the region. Its most important contributions, however, may come as a result of the advancements in environmentally beneficial technologies and innovations from the firms located at the Park.

 

 

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