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Spotlight on Neighbors: Aaron & Helena Cowley

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The traditional American work ethic has two stellar examples in Haile residents, Helena and Aaron Cowley. These young professional scientists and entrepreneurs are successfully contributing to biomedical research on the local, as well as international scene.

Their background and educational credentials are impressive. Helena was born and raised just outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. She seemed destined for an international life path, as her mother was Chinese and her father Swedish. Helena describes childhood with her two siblings as very normal, with lots of enthusiasm for the outdoors, soccer, and volleyball. But early on, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in science. She said, “My mother had a degree in chemistry and later became a registered nurse, working with dialysis patients.” Inspired by her example, Helena graduated in 2008 with her Master’s degree in bioengineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

In the course of her education, Helena obtained an internship in 2007 in the U.S. at OxThera, Inc. in Progress Park, Alachua. OxThera is a biopharmaceutical company developing treatments for primary and secondary hyperoxaluria. At OxThera Helena met Aaron Cowley, who was employed in a scientist position. “We obviously hit it off,” Helena recalls, “and when it was time for me to go back to Sweden, we decided to give a long distance relationship a try. It was not easy, but we made it work for over two years.” In Sweden, Helena completed her Master’s degree, and took up employment at the Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo, in the area of multivariate data analysis and experiment design in their paint-engineering laboratory. In 2009, Helena reunited with Aaron in the US; they married that summer.

Aaron Cowley was born and raised in Horton, Kansas and won a college basketball scholarship to Benedictine College in Atchison. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry, he went to graduate school at the University of Kansas and earned his PhD in Chemistry in 2004. Aaron commented, “Following a two and a half year post-doc NIH fellowship at the University of Georgia in Athens, I was recruited by my colleague and future business partner, Qingshan Li, to move to Florida and work with OxThera.” He remained there until June 2009.

In that benchmark year of marriage to Helena and new beginnings, Aaron and his partner created their own biotech startup company called Captozyme, LLC. It’s a research and development enterprise working on therapeutic enzymes to help reduce the occurrence of kidney stones. Aaron elaborated, “By 2016 we’re planning to bring to market an affordable medical food product to manage kidney-related disease. It’s basically dietary management of a nutritional process whereby harmful oxalate is converted into another, harmless compound in the stomach. We also intend to do future follow-up studies to monitor its effect on patients.” Currently Captozyme, LLC is a company with six employees, but they are always on the look-out for talented and driven professionals.

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