HIGH TECH Solius repli­cates sun’s rays

The Georgia Straight - - High Tech - By

VKate Wil­son

an­cou­ver is a gloomy place in the win­ter. Short, dark days are punc­tu­ated by weeks of rain­fall, and few have the in­cli­na­tion to get out­side. Lo­cals rarely get enough sun­light dur­ing the sea­son, and that leads to poor vi­ta­min D production.

De­spite its name, vi­ta­min D is not a vi­ta­min but a hor­mone, and stud­ies sug­gest that it likely plays a role in pre­vent­ing bro­ken bones, os­teo­poro­sis, de­pres­sion, schizophre­nia, ag­ing, and cancer. Although in­di­vid­u­als can in­crease their con­cen­tra­tions by eat­ing oily fish, the body syn­the­sizes the hor­mone it­self more ef­fi­ciently from the sun’s rays as they hit the skin. Be­cause the coun­try has such long win­ters, al­most 60 per­cent of Cana­di­ans are de­fi­cient in vi­ta­min D.

For Rick Hen­nessey, CEO of Wash­ing­ton-state-based com­pany Solius, find­ing a so­lu­tion to that issue was per­sonal. A num­ber of his fam­ily mem­bers suf­fer from sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der (SAD)—A form of cycli­cal de­pres­sion—dur­ing the win­ter, which is as­so­ci­ated with low lev­els of the hor­mone. Af­ter join­ing Solius as an in­vestor in the com­pany’s sun­light-based med­i­cal ther­apy for au­toim­mune is­sues, the se­rial en­tre­pre­neur soon stepped into the role of CEO. To­gether with the team of sci­en­tists, Hen­nessey over­saw the cre­ation of the com­pany’s flag­ship prod­uct: a walk-in booth that repli­cates the pos­i­tive ef­fects of stand­ing in di­rect sun­light on a summer’s day.

“We’ve taken these nanospec­trums of light, iso­lated them down, and elim­i­nated the harm­ful rays that are re­spon­si­ble for skin cancer and ag­ing, which are in the UVA range,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Straight on the line from his Bain­bridge Island of­fice. “We’ve built a spe­cial light that only does a cer­tain tar­get, and then we bend the light to re­duce the en­ergy and spread it back out. We started de­vel­op­ing this sci­ence ini­tially for au­toim­mune dis­ease. But as we were de­vel­op­ing it, we re­al­ized that the same spec­trums of light that were pro­duc­ing the im­mune re­sponse were also in the peak area for op­ti­mally pro­duc­ing vi­ta­min D.”

The Solius booth looks like a prop from a sci­ence-fic­tion movie. The twoand-a-half-me­tre-tall, glow­ing pur­ple kiosk emits light from three walls all around the in­di­vid­ual, while the fourth is a lock­able door. Clients walk in­side, stand on the two foot­prints on the floor, and face a touch­screen TV. The voiceover in­vites users to stay in the booth for two to six minutes, which is enough to let them syn­the­size the vi­ta­min D they need.

Hen­nessey be­lieves that the booth pro­vides a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive to taking vi­ta­min D pills, which, he says, are ques­tion­able in their ef­fec­tive­ness.

“Sup­ple­ments aren’t solv­ing the prob­lem, and can be very con­tro­ver­sial,” he says. “The rea­son is that they don’t go through a rig­or­ous reg­u­la­tory process, and they don’t bind cor­rectly to pro­teins. If you take some­thing that’s made from an ex­tract from fish or­gans, it might get your D up, but it’s not of­fer­ing the same ben­e­fits to you as if you pro­duced vi­ta­min D your­self from light. You don’t know if you have too much or too lit­tle, be­cause you’re just jam­ming this stuff into your blood­stream. With light, there’s this very el­e­gant reg­u­la­tory process so you can’t over­dose. It just makes as much as you need, and then it stops. That’s one of the ben­e­fits of our ma­chine.”

Hen­nessey launched the ser­vice in Van­cou­ver in Septem­ber with two booths, one at the Bio­pro Bi­o­log­ics Phar­macy on West Broadway and the second at the Well­ness Garage in White Rock. Over the next year, the com­pany plans to ex­pand con­sid­er­ably in the city.

“We are go­ing to put a cou­ple more in [Van­cou­ver] in January,” he says. “We have a long list of groups that want our ma­chines [for] things like sports medicine, where they re­ally un­der­stand the cor­re­la­tion be­tween vi­ta­min D and bone and mus­cle health. It’s also very help­ful for au­toim­mune dis­ease, which of­ten comes with fat-mal­ab­sorp­tion con­di­tions. Those con­di­tions need a lot of vi­ta­min D be­cause it helps re­duce the flare-ups. I imag­ine we’ll end up putting 20 or so into Van­cou­ver in the next 12 months.”


It’s the time of year when even the most rad­i­cal of pub­li­ca­tions feast on the low-hang­ing con­sumerist click­bait fruit: lis­ti­cles. I hate lis­ti­cles, and none more than the pa­tron­iz­ing Christ­masshop­ping lis­ti­cle. De­cem­ber 1 rolls around and Twit­ter morphs into a bar­rage of pur­chas­ing point­ers for ev­ery type of per­son you’ve ever met: the tech diva, car fa­natic, book­worm, and, most re­cently, lux­ury stoner.

These crude mar­ket­ing de­vices pa­rade as jour­nal­ism to hawk ex­pen­sive spon­sored items that fit in seam­lessly with the gen­tri­fied-chic design aes­thetic of your bestie’s Gas­town pad. And this year, with the ad­vent of le­gal adul­tuse cannabis, it’s all about the bud. The In­ter­net is rife with lists push­ing designer weed ac­ces­sories—en­graved grinders, hand-stitched hemp stash bags, peri­win­kle rolling pa­pers—all to help com­mu­ni­cate to your guests at this year’s ugly-sweater potluck that you’re down with le­gal­iza­tion.

Now, cap­i­tal­ism isn’t a sea­sonal phe­nom­e­non, but the re­cent surge of can­na­cen­tric wish lists cer­tainly sheds light on the salient fact that our at­ten­tions have yet again been pulled away from some of the more press­ing mat­ters sur­round­ing Canada’s lat­est po­lit­i­cal shifts. And since le­gal­iza­tion re­ally wasn’t the Christ­mas mir­a­cle we were all hop­ing for, here are a few things that “ston­ers” ac­tu­ally want this year. CANNABIS AMNESTY

For al­most a half-mil­lion Cana­di­ans, the num­ber one ask in their letter to Canna Claus is a crim­i­nal record

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