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‘Parva Sub Ingenti’ – the small under the great, Prince Edward Island’s official motto is getting turned upside down when you look at the great (and innovative) things happening at the smallest province’s two higher education institutions.

The University of Prince Edward Island is punching well above its weight when it comes to moving technology developed at the university out into the wider world. Seven years ago, it established Three Oaks Innovations, Inc. (TOI) — a not-for-profit corporation established to assist researchers in transforming their innovative ideas into commercial products, business opportunities, and public knowledge.

One of the most recent exciting developments is a licensing agreement between UPEI and Atlanta Georgia-based Carmel Biosciences to develop a co-drug that has anti-inflammatory properties.

In an October 2011 news release, Three Oaks Innovations announced that, “This novel compound is derived from naturally occurring products with proven safety and efficacy in humans.”

Dr. Tarek Saleh, chair of Biomedical Sciences at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, said: “We’ve bonded them chemically and created a unique compound. This new compound shows great potential as an anti-inflammatory for use in neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.”

Dr. Saleh developed the new compound, patent-pending under the name UPEI-100, with Dr. Bobby Khan, a physician and investigator at the Atlanta Vascular Research Foundation and a past visiting Fulbright Scholar to UPEI.

While this drug is about 10-15 years away from being on the market, the researchers are excited about its potential to delay the after-effects of a stroke for up to 24 hours after it has occurred. The agreement with Carmel Biosciences will take the drug through the next steps of clinical testing required before it can be available on the market. UPEI 100 is just a stepping stone – the university is already forging ahead and working on more advanced products, numbering as high as UPEI 300 already.

Sophie Theriault, the director of technology transfer at Three Oaks Innovations Inc., says that UPEI has received 16 Atlantic Innovation Fund grants since its inception – four have been completed. The technologies that have been created include a community-based digital sign network, a data repository development and management company, and development of therapeutic agents from marine compounds. In fact, UPEI ranks number three in terms of Atlantic Innovation Fund projects at regional universities.

“We’re now starting on a new project that will examine literacy in the workplace,” Theriault says. “It’s more than just studying if employees can read or write, it’s looking into aspects such as computer literacy – if you have an advertising agency, do they (employees) have the skills required to use your Macs?”

The Island’s other higher education institution, Holland College, is also creating and innovating in a myriad of ways.

“One of our better kept secrets is our new School of Performing Arts,” says Michael O’Grady, Holland College’s vice president of innovation, enterprise and strategic development. “We’ve established it in collaboration with the Confederation Centre of the Arts and the first students entered the program in September. We had a really proud moment in December when we had 21 students involved in a production of The Sound of Music on the Centre’s main stage.”

Prince Edward Island has always been known for the quality of its music and this new program gives talented Islanders the opportunity to stay at home and develop their skills in terms of the performing arts. O’Grady says the College is pleased to be able to fill that particular niche. It’s held at both the Charlottetown Centre and the Confederation Centre, and at the end, the students receive a certificate from the Performing Arts Foundation.

And, if these students, or students in other programs offered by Holland College, want to further their education off Island, Holland College has more than 150 articulation agreements in place in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, and across Canada where their credits can be transferred to continue into a degree track program.

While the performing arts program is a visible manifestation of Holland College, there’s another program that’s more in the background – Canada’s Smartest Kitchen. It’s part of the college’s highly successful culinary program and is geared towards the work that goes into developing and creating food products.

Like the roots of the oak trees on the province’s shield, O’Grady says that Holland College has touched an incredible number of Islanders and Island residents. “We estimate that one-third of the labour force on the Island has some type of training connection to Holland College. We’ve touched most families on the Island.” That connection is not only through the College’s full-time and continuing education students, it’s also through the successful athletics programs connected to the College. “Our varsity program is not that old, but we’re already producing some regional champions and medallists at the national level in soccer, football, and golf,” he says. “And the community comes out to support these teams.”

The face of Holland College is also changing. The Prince of Wales campus is undergoing changes which will revitalize the landscape of Charlottetown’s east end. Phase one was the completion of the $17 million Centre for Applied Science and Technology. Next in line is construction of the Centre for Community Engagement, expansion of Glendenning Hall, renovation of the Charlottetown Centre (the old Prince of Wales College building), and the creation of more green space.

In Summerside, Holland College is undertaking a $9.4-million transformation of the old Waterfront Mall, adjacent to the college’s Marine Training Centre which is attended by approximately 1,000 students annually. Following completion of the year-long renovation project, another 230 students will take part in Holland College training programs in Summerside.

In addition to the investments in bricks and mortar, Holland College is particularly successful in attracting students from off-Island to its programs. From tuition to housing, each of these students spends approximately $11,000 on the Island annually.

“We are so lucky here on Prince Edward Island to have two institutions like Holland College and UPEI,” O’Grady says. “We work together really well and there are some really interesting learning opportunities here on the Island.” |

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