Fourth year students Cole Kirschner and Nathan Cawte are bullish on the future of predictive technology applied to human health.
A shared fascination with personal fitness brought them together early in their biotech studies at the W Booth School. Soon their friendship sparked the creation of AgeRate (formerly BioAge), a fledgling company that combines DNA testing and machine learning to determine a person’s biological age at a molecular level — an alternative measure of the aging process. This number, which is typically different from one’s chronological age, provides a starting point for tailoring a client-specific wellness program that targets health-related risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure. The goal is to help more people enjoy a long life through making smart choices.
AgeRate received the top prize of $10,000 at the 2018 Student Start Up Competition hosted by The Forge @ Mac.
Winning factors that put AgeRate over the top include credibility (a compelling business idea backed by scientific research and thorough planning), market potential (the explosive global demand for affordable and accurate consumer DNA testing), scalability (the company is built for growth), and team composition (Cole and Nathan represent a unique combination of sales, business and technical expertise).
“These young innovators embody our school’s mission to encourage and educate the highly qualified talent that will drive the economy of tomorrow,” said Dr. Mo Elbestawi, Director, W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology.
The students’ accomplishments to date are the outcome of hard work aided by a cast of supporters.
Cole and Nathan are quick to acknowledge the ongoing help of Dr. Guillaume Paré, Canada Research Chair in Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology at McMaster University. They both worked in Dr. Paré’s lab and learned how advanced algorithms are used to identify the genetic traits that trigger certain health problems and how to better determine who is at risk. In addition, the students discovered an exciting field in which to apply their entrepreneurial instincts.
This experience jump-started the students’ fourth year capstone project under the supervision of Dr. Fei Geng, an Assistant Professor at the W Booth School with expertise in biotechnology. The project, which will be completed by December 2018 as a graduation requirement, evolved to become AgeRate.
The pace has picked up in the months following The Forge competition. Cole and Nathan are enrolled in The Forge Summer Accelerator Program at McMaster Innovation Park. They invested their prize money to ‘piggyback’ on a clinical trial led by Dr. Paré. The trial involves 500 employees at Hamilton Health Sciences and is designed to compare the effectiveness of a DNA-based fitness and weight loss program with a conventional program. It includes the use of AgeRate technology and will help Cole and Nathan gather data needed to further validate their technology prior to taking it to market.
Trial results are expected this fall. “Favourable data will give us confidence knowing that our technology is reliable,” said Cole, noting that AgeRate is designed for users who are ‘curious’ about their biological age. “This is not a diagnostic tool.”
As a parallel activity, the students continue to work with GeneBlueprint — a Hamilton-based start up that has Dr. Paré as its Chief Scientific Officer. This company, which operates a similar business, provides a supportive learning environment and an opportunity to acquire equity. “We work hard and play hard,” says Cole with appreciation.
Photo: (left to right) Nathan Cawte and Cole Kirschner join forces to launch AgeRate, a health technology start up emerging from the W Booth School at McMaster University, 2018