Photo Courtesy Bethany Hughes

Startup knows it’s what’s inside that counts

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By Justin Chandler

Two Ryerson science graduates started a business that tests the bacteria in customers’ guts, then provides them with the probiotics they need to stay healthy.

Aly Burtch and Alejandro Saettone met in Ryerson’s molecular biology lab two years and decided to start a company. In December 2015, they founded the startup uBioDiscovery, which is now part of Ryerson’s Science Discovery Zone (SDZ). The SDZ provides scientific businesses with space and mentorship.

Burtch and Saettone also use space at the MaRS Discovery District, which provides a similar service to the SDZ. Before they joined the SDZ, Burtch and Saettone were part of similar groups in Markham, Mississauga and at the University of Toronto.

“The fact that we have access to a lab space made it possible for us [to start a business], whereas a lot of people may have had this idea and not had the resources available to them to do it,” Burtch said.

To be tested by uBioDiscovery, buyers must send the company a stool sample, which can be collected with a swab from toilet paper. The company sends the container for the sample.

Burtch compares her startup to 23andMe, a U.S. company that analyzes customers’ DNA. Unlike 23andMe, uBioDiscovery aims to provide people with the solution to problems it detects in the form of probiotic pills, Burtch said. Probiotic pills encourage the growth of certain bacteria inside people. 

Customers get tested before they take the probiotics and after so they can see what changes in their bodies.

A person could send a sample to uBioDiscovery if they have a health problem, or just want to learn more about the bacteria inside them, Burtch said.

Healthy gut bacteria can lead to strong overall physical and mental health, Burtch said.

Microorganisms can affect the amounts of energy people take from food and therefore influence weight gain. Burtch also said microorganisms can affect mental health. Depression has been linked to a deficit of the chemical serotonin in the brain. Burtch said that since serotonin is produced in the gut, probiotics can help a person create more of it.

If you don’t have a healthy microbiome (the microorganisms that live in and on people), “your body isn’t producing enough of the happy hormones it needs,” she said.

Burtch said testing and probiotics from uBioDiscovery costs about $250, “which is a lot” because the company has to outsource analysis to a different lab.

The SDZ is trying to acquire a next-generation sequencer, which would allow uBioDiscovery to analyze customers’ stool samples without a third party, meaning they could charge less.

The Ryerson community is the first Burtch plans to market to. She said students may not be able to afford the service, but professors may. Nutritionists, trainers and health professionals are all people uBioDiscovery might market to.

Burtch said people who want healthy gut bacteria should eat vegetables and fibre, which create the right conditions needed for bacteria to flourish.

uBioDiscovery won $7,500 through the SDZ for showing promise as a business.

Zone program coordinator Cassandra Gentile is a nutritionist and said the startup provides a service beneficial to her field.

She said nutritionists make educated guesses about what clients need and could better serve their clients by analyzing their microbiomes.

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