Image Source: Aspect Biosystems
“Imagine a procedure that could reverse the effects of Type 1 diabetes by implanting in patients living tissue produced by a 3-D printer that uses cells instead of ink or plastics. No more insulin shots. No daily blood tests. It is the stuff of science fiction. Or it was.”
This week, Radical Ventures portfolio company Aspect Biosystems was featured in The Globe and Mail. Radical Ventures partner Aaron Brindle followed up for a brief discussion with Aspect’s Co-Founder and CEO, Tamer Mohamed. The following has been edited for length.
Aaron Brindle: You’ve talked about Aspect Biosystems’ mission as akin to turning science fiction into reality. What was behind your decision to create Aspect Biosystems?
Tamer Mohamed: Our mission is to create implantable, living tissue therapeutics that could replace or repair damaged organs and biological functions inside of the human body. That would be incredibly transformative to medical practice. The impact of making this a reality was the driving force behind creating Aspect.
But to make a big vision a reality, timing is everything, particularly with the type of deep tech innovation and frontier science that we are developing at Aspect. And from that perspective, I believe the timing is on our side. We are seeing a massive paradigm shift in the world of therapeutics. The market for biopharmaceuticals where the drug itself is made of biological substances like antibodies is rapidly expanding. And now, I believe we are entering into a new era of regenerative medicine, where cells, tissues, and organ systems created in the lab will become the next generation of therapeutics – I see this as the next frontier in medicine.
AB: What have been the biggest challenges in creating this technology?
TM: Biology is incredibly complex and dynamic. The challenge was to create a technology that allows us to harness the incredible power of cells and rationally design and create bioengineered, cell-based tissue therapeutics. By marrying the structural flexibility of 3D printing with the materials design flexibility of microfluidics, our microfluidic bioprinting technology gives us a very deep level of control over the biology to create biofunctional tissues.
AB: How do you see AI influencing the field of tissue therapeutics?
TM: Machine vision and ML-based control systems can be used to monitor our entire process and correct errors in real-time, allowing us to make higher quality therapeutic products. We also believe AI will help augment and accelerate our tissue therapeutic design process and provide a much larger number of possible solutions compared to human design alone.
AB: How close are you to printing viable, on-demand human tissue therapeutics?
TM: We are advancing multiple tissue therapeutics toward first-in-human trials. Currently we are testing our tissues in animals, showing very encouraging results. For example, our bioprinted pancreatic tissues have demonstrated successful regulation of blood glucose in animal models of type 1 diabetes. In addition to pancreatic tissue, we are also focused on bioprinted liver tissues for patients suffering from acquired and genetic liver disease. Beyond our internal pipeline and working with our external partners, we are developing a portfolio of applications including cardiac, neural, and kidney tissue – think of this as a discovery engine to create the next wave of applications for our platform. Our goal is to advance multiple tissues to clinical evaluation over the coming years.
5 Noteworthy AI and Deep Tech Articles: week of October 25, 2021
1) Crossing Minds brings in new capital to provide recommendations that don’t require identifiable information (TechCrunch)
Online convenience and personal privacy is at an inflection point. As our digital lives become increasingly personalized, the technologies delivering those tailored experiences continue to encroach on our sense of privacy. Crossing Minds announced their $10M Series A funding, led by Radical Ventures, to provide recommendations that do not require personally identifiable information (PII). Crossing Minds is powered by the latest advances in deep learning and a team of AI experts, including Alexandre Robicquet, Emile Contal, and Sebastian Thrun (who previously founded Google X).
2) Ontario AI snapshot: The state of the province’s AI ecosystem in 2020-21 (The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence)
The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence was co-founded by Radical Ventures Co-Founders Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen, and Radical partner Ed Clark (Vector’s chairperson), amongst others. Vector, which is based in downtown Toronto, is an independent not-for-profit dedicated to advancing the field of AI through world-class research and commercial applications. This report is an annual publication assessing the health of the province’s AI ecosystem. This year finds that Ontario’s AI ecosystem continued to grow in size and strength in 2020-21, responding nimbly and effectively to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at the reported talent metrics, Ontario is creating excellent, well-paying AI jobs with more than 7,200 new AI jobs created in Ontario this year, nearly doubling last year’s figure. Ontario’s supply of trained AI talent is also growing. More than 1,400 students began their studies in AI-related masters programs in Ontario –an increase of 270 from last year. And over 700 AI masters students graduated.
3) AI is reinventing what computers are (MIT Technology Review)
For the last fifty years, computers have largely remained the same. Although now smaller and faster, computers have processors that run on instructions from humans. AI is fundamentally changing computers “from number-crunching to decision-making.” AI is enabling a steady shift from individualized hard-coded hardware (i.e., computers) toward seamless integration of our computers into the objects in our day-to-day lives. This shift will have implications for the way that computers are made, programmed, and how they are used.
4) NATO releases first-ever strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance of 30 countries that border the North Atlantic Ocean, announced this week that it would adopt an 18-point AI strategy and launch a ‘future-proofing’ fund to invest approximately US$1 Billion. This strategy is another step in a growing response from Western governments to a fear of China’s military and defence AI dominance (despite suggestions that this might not be accurate). As MIT Technology Review has pointed out, Western nations’ attitudes could ultimately hurt US AI development by focusing too much on military AI and too little on fundamental research.
5) Absence of Barren Plateaus in Quantum Convolutional Neural Networks (Physical Review)
Running convolutional neural networks on a quantum computer is an AI methodology that has generated significant buzz for its potential to solve problems in areas from image recognition to materials discovery. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have published a potential solution to a fundamental problem known as “barren plateaus.” The paper proves an absence of barren plateaus for a specific type of quantum convolutional neural network (QCNN) and guarantees scalability. In that case, a scalable QCNN on a quantum computer could sift through a vast data set and correlate with other information to identify the optimal value. For example, analyzing the complexities of ceramic materials and identifying the optimal state for the application could broaden the material’s use as a high-temperature superconductor.
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