Universities, at their best, exist to promote the kind of thinking that helps solve problems and expand our knowledge. It seems that In Aberdeen, Scotland, that is very much on the agenda as a group of students from there have come up with a revolutionary concept, which would have the potential to help alleviate diseases including osteoporosis.
Where does the hot drink come in? Well, when we drink tea, coffee or hot chocolate then we absorb compounds called oxalates which are found naturally in the plants from which these drinks are derived. Oxalates act as a defence mechanism to help prevent the plants from being eaten by bugs.
Good for plants, but not so good for people as oxalates can be harmful for anyone with a history of osteoporosis or kidney stones, particularly when taken in through drinks such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Anyone with a history of osteoporosis or kidney stones is advised to avoid high levels of oxalates in their diet because oxalates bind calcium ions in the stomach, forming calcium-oxalate crystals, which prevent calcium from being absorbed into the body – a cause of osteoporosis. Further, if these crystals build up over time, this can also lead to the development of kidney stones.
A group of University of Aberdeen postgraduate research students have developed the concept for a system which would filter out these compounds from popular drinks before they are drunk. Their unique invention is at the moment purely hypothetical and something they developed as part of an annual UK-wide “Dragon’s Den” style competition, which challenges students to conceptualise scientific innovations.
Lesley Ford-Taylor, a postgraduate researcher in the University’s School of Medical Sciences is one of the team of 5 students who developed the concept. She said:
“The device we have conceptualised is a filter which would sift out the oxalates from these drinks. It would use a molecule called a polymer, which has ‘sticky’ properties which would prevent oxalates from escaping into the drink. The filter could either be integrated into the actual design of a teabag or a coffee filter, or as a sift style device which could be used by an individual before they drink their beverage.”
This concept won the students the Scottish heat of the annual Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition – which aims to raise awareness of the commercialisation of bioscience ideas among the postgraduate student community across the UK. They will compete in the UK finals of the competition in London on December 13, where winning entries will receive a £1000 cash prize.
This is such a simple and effective idea I can only hope someone picks it up commercially.