Nfld. & Labrador

From 3D-printed skulls to the healing power of crabs, MUN students rewarded for big ideas

Three student businesses were chosen as recipients for $10,000 prizes at the 2019 Mel Woodward Cup.

'Interesting problems' in N.L. make it a breeding ground for innovation, says Mel Woodward Cup winner

Members of PolyUnity Tech accept a $10,000 cheque from the Woodward family at the third annual Mel Woodward Cup. (PolyUnity Tech/Twitter)

When a rookie surgeon has the unfortunate job of drilling into a human head, there's a team at Memorial University that wants to make sure they've had the chance to do a lifelike test run beforehand.

PolyUnity was one of three teams of Memorial University students rewarded for their grand ideas on Thursday, at the third annual Mel Woodward Cup. Each team went home with $10,000 of funding they can use for their businesses.

According to team member Stephen Ryan, the strength of the ideas in the room is largely shaped by unique issues they see on a daily basis.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is a breeding ground for innovation, because we have some interesting problems with demographics and isolation, that you kind of gotta think outside the box for solutions," he said.

PolyUnity tech was founded by three med students — Michael Bartellas, left, Travis Pickett and Stephen Ryan. (PolyUnity.com)

PolyUnity was founded by three MUN medical students — Ryan, Michael Bartellas and Travis Pickett — and has already set up 3D printers in six locations across the province. The goal is to make high-tech, low-cost medical simulations available to physicians and students around the world.

"A lot of the simulations we focus on are life-saving simulations, like evacuating a bleed from a brain or putting a tube through a trachea," Ryan said.

They are also the founders of MUN Med 3D, which was Atlantic Canada's first biomedical 3D printing lab, and was featured by CBC in 2017 for creating prosthetic hands for kids in Zimbabwe

Ryan said his team was ecstatic to win $10,000, which it will try to leverage to pay a full-time software engineer to create a database for simulations, so they are easily accessible around the world.

Green uses for green crab

Another winner was Duff Ocean Resources — a duo consisting of Colton Etheridge and Joycelyn Moulton.

The business looks at using the invasive green crab species as a source of chitin, which is a component of their shells that can be used for things like purifying water and cleaning wounds.

Duff Ocean Enterprises was one of three $10,000 winners. The team consists of Colton Etheridge, second from left, and Joycelyn Moulton. (MUN Business/Twitter)

"It was incredibly overwhelming," Moulton said of the win. "The enthusiasm, and the promising projects that were pitched last night were incredible."

Green crab are taking over the waters in some Newfoundland and Labrador harbours, causing damage to existing sea creatures and their habitats. Moulton has been studying the species extensively for two years.

There isn't much of a market for harvesting the crabs in this province, but the duo's plan gives them value.

Etheridge said they've had interest from industry, and could become operational within three months and have their process further refined by September 2019.

"We've been put in touch with a few wholesalers, so we know where the chitin would be going and we're excited to move forward on that," he said.

Harvesting goods from old pills

The third winner was Unbound Chemicals, a team consisting of Blaine Edwards, Gerard Noseworthy and Abis Abbas.

Their business looks at ways to extract useful chemicals from medications that would normally be flushed down the toilet, tossed in the trash or returned to a pharmacy.

"There's potential other uses for discarded medication," Edwards said. "So we have some research completed and we want to continue researching alternate uses for them."

Active ingredients can be salvaged and used for things like veterinarian drugs.

Blaine Edwards, of Unbound Chemicals, was part of a winning team at the Mel Woodward Cup on Thursday. (Memorial University/Facebook)

Like the other winners, Edwards said their idea fits well as a solution to a local problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Sure, the intention of the company is to go beyond the borders of Newfoundland, but it's an excellent little test case here. There's a wide variety of illnesses throughout the province, so there's a wide variety of drugs."

One of the biggest obstacles they face is finding a way to sort through pills. If the company reaches the targets it wants to achieve, it'll have to sort through hundreds of thousands, or even millions of pills.

That's where Noseworthy and Abbas come in — they developed an artificial intelligence program that can identify pills on a conveyor belt with 94 per cent accuracy.

"That in itself is a huge tool that essentially cracks open this whole problem," Edwards said. "If the pills can't be sorted, they can't be extracted."

The team will use its money to continue developing the technology, with hopes of perfecting the sorting system.

The competition is an ode to Mel Woodward, an entrepreneur and politician from Labrador that passed away in 2015.

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