Waterloo Record – UW researcher wins award for innovation that saves labs money

Industrial and academic labs are saving time and money these days, thanks to Adam Metherel’s innovation. 

Metherel, a 32-year-old post-doctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, is receiving an award this week to recognize his work on an innovation that improved the time-consuming and tedious process of measuring fatty acids and cholesterol in food and tissue samples.

Metherel, who developed the new process in conjunction with Certo Labs Inc. in Waterloo, is the recipient of the Mitacs and NRC-IRAP (National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program) Award for Commercialization.

It is given for an outstanding idea that has been or will soon be commercialized. Certo Labs turned the innovation into kits that are sold to laboratories in Canada and Argentina.

The kits are used to measure fatty acids, such as healthy omega-3 or harmful trans fats, for food labelling and other uses. Researchers need to know, for example, the fatty acid content in lab animal diets.

Metherel is one of five national award winners chosen from the Mitacs programs that bring industries in need of solutions together with university researchers. The programs are part of a “new paradigm” for making commercialization happen, said Arvind Gupta, chief executive of Mitacs.

Certo Labs needed to improve fatty acid and cholesterol analysis, so Metherel started working on that project while doing his PhD in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo.

“It wasn’t something that was directly related to my thesis work, but it turned into a side project,” he said.

The conventional method is tedious and time consuming, Metherel said. It involves manual pipetting, as well as putting samples through a centrifuge to separate the contents. The innovation involves a special filter attached to a syringe, turning it into a one-step process.

Just doing away with manual pipetting can save a lab about minute or minute and a half per sample, Metherel said. If a lab is doing 40 samples, that alone will save almost an hour of time. The system works well, he added. 

“For all of our comparisons so far we have seen no difference between the standard method and our method. In most cases, we are actually getting more consistency.”

Metherel worked on the system under the supervision of University of Waterloo professor Ken Stark.

He said he is “honoured” to receive the award, which comes with $500 in prize money.

“It’s pretty nice to see a finalized project from years of research turned into something that is actually available commercially,” he said.

Metherel is continuing his research at UW to apply the technology to other substances, such as measuring pesticides and broad-spectrum antibiotics.

“When you are talking about extracting an analyte from tissue or food, it is usually a  relatively tedious process,” said Metherel.

Gupta said most people think of innovation in terms of software or drug development, but this is an example of an innovation that improves productivity. “We look at innovation more broadly, not just narrow sectors,” he said.