Aberdeen biotechnology students develop concept to reduce
22 Oct 2010
A revolutionary concept, which could help alleviate diseases
including osteoporosis, has been dreamt up by a group of Aberdeen
postgraduate students for the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme
The students have developed a concept for a filter that would
remove naturally occurring compounds called oxalates from beverages
before they are consumed.
When we drink tea, coffee or hot chocolate we absorb oxalates,
which are found naturally in the plants from which these drinks are
derived. People with a history of osteoporosis or kidney stones are
advised to avoid high levels of oxalates in their diet.
Oxalates bind calcium ions in the stomach, forming
calcium-oxalate crystals, which prevent calcium from being absorbed
into the body — a cause of osteoporosis. If these crystals build up
over time, this can also lead to the development of kidney stones.
The students' hypothetical invention has secured them a place in
the finals of an annual UK-wide competition that challenges students
to conceptualise scientific innovations.
Lesley Ford-Taylor, a postgraduate researcher in the University’s
School of Medical Sciences is one of the team of five students —
calling themselves DeeNature — who developed the concept.
She said: “Oxalates are compounds which occur naturally in
plants, where they act as a defence mechanism to help prevent them
from being eaten by bugs.
“Whilst useful for plants, oxalates can be harmful for people
with a history of osteoporosis or kidney stones, when ingested via
drinks such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
“The device we have conceptualised is a filter which would sift
out the oxalates from these drinks. The filter would use a molecule
called a polymer, which has ‘sticky’ properties which would prevent
oxalates from escaping into the drink.
“The filter could either be integrated into the actual design of
a teabag or a coffee filter, or as a sift style device which could
be used be an individual before they drink their beverage.”
DeeNature’s concept won the Scottish heat of the annual
Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition, which
aims to raise awareness of the commercialisation of bioscience ideas
among the postgraduate student community across the UK.
They will compete in the UK finals of the competition in London
on December 13, where winning entries will receive a £1000 cash
Dr Lauren Whyte, who is also a postgraduate researcher in the
University’s School of Medical Sciences and part of the DeeNature
team said: “In the Scottish heats of the competition we had to pitch
the business plan for our product to a panel, in the style of
'Dragon’s Den', comprising of business, financial and academic
representatives who took on the role of venture capitalists.
“As a team we found the experience incredibly enriching, gaining
business knowledge, and learning how to work collaboratively.
Winning the Scottish heats was testament to the hard work, and late
nights we put into our entry.
“We are looking forward to the London finals and hope that our
success so far in the competition will encourage more students from
The University of Aberdeen to compete in next year’s competition.”
Three of the team members work with Professor Ruth Ross, Chair in
Molecular Pharmacology at the University. Professor Ross said: "This
competition is a fantastic opportunity for students to develop an
entrepreneurial spirit early in their careers. They are the next
generation of talented innovators who will make an impact on health
and society through exciting science. I’m really delighted with
Biotechnology YES is organised jointly by the University of
Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and the
Business and Innovation Unit at the UK's Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
For more information on the Biotechnology YES competition visit: