The Pulse: April 27, 2023

Here's what you need to know about Edmonton today.

Sponsored by:

Want this in your inbox? Sign up to get The Pulse by email. It's free!


  • 13°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Becoming sunny near noon. Wind north 30 km/h gusting to 60. High 13. UV index 5 or moderate. (forecast)
  • $55 million: Someone in Alberta won $55 million in the April 25 Lotto Max jackpot draw, which went to a single ticket with the numbers 4, 19, 21, 33, 37, 38 and 39, and the bonus number 42. (details)

A smiling Jason Acker with lab equipment behind him

University spinoff saves preserved cells from ice damage

By Caitlin Crawshaw

A startup based in Edmonton and Ottawa is pioneering a new class of chemical additives to prevent living cells from being damaged during cryopreservation.

PanTHERA CryoSolutions, which emerged from a longtime research collaboration between University of Alberta cryobiologist Jason Acker and University of Ottawa chemistry professor Robert Ben, is aiming to release its first product by the end of 2023 and has another in the works.

"The industry has been looking for newer technologies, and that's where PanTHERA comes in," Acker told Taproot.

Inspired by nature — specifically, a protein found in a species of fish that survives freezing during winter — Acker and Ben created a new class of cryopreservation agents (CPAs) called ice recrystallization inhibitors (IRIs). These small, sugar-based molecules easily penetrate cells and prevent ice recrystallization, during the initial freezing as well as amid temperature fluctuations during shipping, thus ensuring that cryopreserved cells are healthier and quicker to recover after thawing.

You may have experienced the unpleasant crunch of recrystallization when the phenomenon strikes ice cream in your home freezer. Although it's no fun to throw out a quart of rocky road because of freezer burn, ice recrystallization in cryopreservation brings more severe consequences, namely damage to the precious cells, tissues, and organs needed for health research, medical treatments, reproductive assistance, blood-banking, and more.

PanTHERA's potential customers are cryopreservation companies serving the gene and cell therapy markets. Seattle's BioLife Solutions — the largest in the industry, with 70% of the global market — has licensed the product. It also invested US$1 million in the company in 2020, as did Casdin Capital.

PanTHERA has also received Canadian support for its research and commercialization activities from sources such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, GlycoNet, and Canadian Blood Services. This spring, the company received up to $395,700 from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to fund ongoing IRI research and $40,000 from Alberta Innovates to support the development of a machine-learning algorithm for assessing the toxicity of IRIs in zebrafish embryos.

Once the product launches later this year, PanTHERA will explore other market opportunities, including organ banking, and begin its next funding round. "We've started to have some conversations with our existing funders, stakeholders, and VCs that are supporting us," said Acker, who is heading to Boston in May to speak at the Allogenic Cell Therapies Summit.

Continue reading

Headlines: April 27, 2023

By Kevin Holowack

  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he wants to meet with whomever is premier after the May 29 election to talk about Edmonton getting "equitable treatment" from the province. The remarks come after Premier Danielle Smith announced her government's $330-million commitment to a Calgary arena deal, which the premier noted was not to fund the arena but rather infrastructure like roads, utilities, and LRT upgrades to support the development. Smith said she is open to discussing funding for the next phase of the development around Rogers Place. Past conservative premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford both declined to directly contribute to Edmonton's 2013 deal for Rogers Place. "Danielle Smith said at one time, and so did other governments, they won't fund professional sports arenas," said Stephen Mandel, who served as mayor during the Rogers Place discussions. "Now all of a sudden an election is coming, they're coming up with the money."
  • Edmonton man Mohammed Jaffar recounted the challenges his family faced in their attempt to escape Sudan since the country erupted in violent conflict two weeks ago. Modathir Bashir with the Sudanese Cultural League of Edmonton said his community is scared for their friends and family in Sudan, who are living through a worsening situation with few options to leave if the conflict continues. Canada has moved diplomats out of Sudan, but as of April 26 the federal government was still coordinating plans to evacuate Canadian citizens from the country. Around 180 Canadians and permanent residents of Canada and their dependants have fled Sudan on the planes or ships of other countries.
  • The province is giving a $1.4-million "strategic grant" to Edmonton Global to help the economic development agency support trade missions, recruit talent, and do ecosystem and data mapping to increase investment in Alberta. A similar grant is also going to Calgary Economic Development. A provincial release says that Edmonton Global has supported 28 final investment decisions in the Edmonton region since it was created in 2018, amounting to $2.4 billion in investment and creating more than 3,500 jobs.
  • On April 21, the federal government and the City of Edmonton jointly announced a $30.7-million investment to upgrade and expand the city's active transportation infrastructure. The federal government is contributing $8.9 million through the Active Transportation Fund, and the city is contributing the rest. The funding will go toward re-building 1.2 kilometres of sidewalks and streetscaping on Jasper Avenue between 114 Street and 124 Street. It will also go toward four planning studies to identify connection links and safe crossings, examine bike infrastructure needs, and more.
  • An opinion piece in The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta, calls on the university to continue updating its name change policies to improve inclusivity and avoid negatively impacting students. Anna Bajwa-Zschocke points out that the university's preferred name process states the university can use either a student's preferred or legal name in the course of "any communications and activities related to the use of your name" at its sole discretion, which could result in faculty deadnaming a student or using their former name. The university also provides students no way of communicating a preferred last name. The 2023 spring convocation will be the first in which students are allowed to cross the stage under their preferred name rather than their official or legal name, but the degree parchment will still list their legal name as it is a legal document.
  • CTV News spoke to artist Melanie Croucher, who is working on a painted Connor McDavid jersey to sell at auction and raise money for the Ben Stelter Fund, named in honour of a young Oilers fan who inspired many Edmontonians before dying of brain cancer last August. A few local businesses, including Annie Rue Ice Cream and Woodshed Burgers, are also raising money for the fund. A small "Play La Bamba, Baby!" sign has been attached to one of the "Welcome to Edmonton" signs on the outskirts of the city.
  • Two Edmonton-based acts, singer Beatrice Love and street dance group Cool Giraffes, have advanced to the Canada's Got Talent semifinals. Calgary magician Atsushi Ono also advanced, for a total of three Alberta acts among the 18 that will compete for the finals.
  • After actor Will Ferrell was seen in black-and-white face paint during the Los Angeles Kings' two home games against the Edmonton Oilers, several Oilers fans emulated the look during the game at Rogers Place on April 25. Pictures of "Oil Ferrell" went viral on social media. "Will Ferrell, you have met your match," tweeted the NHL.