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How old is my rescued pet? This startup can help

How old is my rescued pet? This startup can help

An alumna’s pet-DNA testing company gives “parents” of former shelter animals and strays the information they need to help extend dogs’ and cats’ lives.

August 22, 2023 at 1:30pm

“How old is my pet?”

That's the question on the minds of those who love and care for animals adoped from shelters or taken in off the streets. Until recently, there was no science-backed way to precisely determine an animal's age.

FIU alumna and post-doctoral researcher Andria Beal has cracked the code and discovered how to scientifically respond to this age-old question. She has even started the first company that caters to giving pet owners an answer.

beal1.jpgWhile pursuing a Ph.D. at FIU, Beal (pictured) focused on DNA research, specifically epigenetics, which helps scientists understand how an individual’s behaviors and environment can affect how genes work. She studied under the mentorship of epigentics professor Jose M. Eirin-Lopez, in the department of biology, and worked closely with the NSF CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment, in FIU's Institue of Environment, on a project to develop a tool to determine a dolphin’s age through a skin sample

“I immediately recognized how this technology could be useful for pets,” Beal says. “I realized this could also help us increase the longevity of our beloved cats and dogs.”

In 2022, shortly after completing a Ph.D., Beal launched EpiPaws, the first company focused solely on epigenetic biomarkers for pets. Beal predicts that epigenetics will creep into all areas of the pet health market, as owners are always looking for innovative ways to improve their pet’s overall health.

“I am especially fascinated by the potential utility of epigenetic markers to monitor an organism’s health,” she says. “Once we know the age of a pet, we can make better predictions about what food it should be eating, how much activity and exercise is ideal, what health issues may arise and other important wellness data points.”

Looking for assistance in starting her company, Beal turned to Robert Hacker, director and co-founder of StartUP FIU, to ensure she was headed in the right direction.

“She wanted her startup to succeed so she could help animals lead longer and healthier lives,” says Hacker, who mentored Beal throughout the process of building her company. “It’s always great to help an entrepreneur looking to create social impact and improve lives, whether human or animal.”

Describing herself as a natural problem solver, Beal credits StartUP FIU with teaching her to successfully fundraise, prepare a pitch presentation for potential investors and communicate her ideas effectively to potential partners and stakeholders. EpiPaws is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream that brings together Beal’s passion for biology and research and her entrepreneurial spirit.

“Her work estimating an animal’s age based on epigenetic biomarkers has great value across different fields,” says Eirin-Lopez, Beal's former mentor. “Thanks to her independent and entrepreneurial nature, this vital technology is now being put into application.”

The company - which sells at-home sample-collection kits and then analyzes mailed-in specimens in its lab  - was showcased at eMerge Americas, South Florida’s premier technology event, and won a 2023 Pet Care Innovation Prize, sponsored by Purina Pet Foods. That latter includes a $25,000 mentorship package and the opportunity to participate in an accelerator boot camp at Purina’s headquarters. Beal also continues to register participants for her company’s animal research health scan study to help EpiPaws increase its knowledge database.

“I’m dedicated to achieving big things through EpiPaws,” Beal says. “It’s vitally important that I not only make the world a better place, but give my family the best life possible. Luckily, I am on my way to achieving my goals by combining entrepreneurship with my innovative research skills and developing a product people want.”

Focused on growing her company, Beal is currently working with related businesses to create a pet “wellness package” that will include a variety of home diagnostic tools. Putting herself in the shoes of pet parents everywhere, Beal understands that all owners want their pets to live the longest, healthiest lives possible and would be enticed by a “full-service” bundle that can offer additional health information and help owners keep their pets in tip-top shape.

“I appreciate all the support StartUP FIU provided as I started and continue to grow EpiPaws,” Beal says. “I encourage any FIU faculty member or researcher interested in commercializing their ideas to reach out to this valuable resource on campus.”