May 24, 2018
TENET i2c team wows judges with monitoring platform to measure brain activity
For the approximately 300,000 Canadians who suffer from epilepsy, driving a car or keeping up with their children’s active lives are daily challenges. And for a portion of people with epilepsy, drugs don’t help. Brain surgery is the only option. Yet brain surgery is limited by 20-year-old technology.
A multidisciplinary team from the University of Calgary has developed a new prototype to update that technology to help surgeons make crucial decisions when operating on patients with epilepsy. As this year’s winner of TENET i2c (Innovation to Commercialization), a business pitch competition, Neuraura received close to $100,000 to turn their health research into a commercial product.
First-place team Neuraura was presented with the prize cheque at the 2018 TENET i2c competition finals on May 8. From left: Jon Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine; Pierre Wijdenes and Colin Dalton of Neuraura; and competition founder Ken Moore.
Pierre Wijdenes, PhD, graduate of the biomedical engineering program; and Colin Dalton, PhD, adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, developed an electronic chip with a dense net of neurosensors that can record brain activity at a higher resolution than commercially available devices, which will allow doctors a more detailed look at the brain to determine the areas to target to prevent seizures.
“It’s like going from a two-megapixel camera to a 20-megapixel camera,” says Dalton. “The lack of good data means that it’s challenging for neurosurgeons to work out exactly where they need to work. It’s difficult for them to define the area of the brain to operate on.”
Right now, measuring brain activity means keeping patients in hospital attached by electrodes and wires to machines like the electroencephalogram (EEG). In the future, with Neuraura’s micro-nanotechnology, patients will be able to go about their daily lives while the chip, implanted directly into the brain, records what’s happening inside the cranium and transmits the information wirelessly — a convenience both to the patient and to a hospital system where bed space is at a premium. The technology continues to be tested in animal models (rodents) and researchers are working toward regulatory approval for trials in humans.
An additional feature of this technology will allow neurosurgeons to access other case studies from around the world using cloud-based data, giving them better information to make a diagnosis.
The TENET i2c award is more than a one-day competition for prize money. Teams receive invaluable training and advice prior to the competition to develop their pitch and product.
“The expertise we received was just amazing,” says Wijdenes. ”Taking courses to learn about entrepreneurship has been the most valuable part (of the process). I know I can follow my dreams because I’ve learned the skills.”
Dalton adds he was amazed and humbled to win the award. “This would never have happened without cross-faculty collaboration. I met Pierre through my decade-long collaboration with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine. Other faculties have a wealth of experience that we can take advantage of and TENET i2c is catalyzing it.”
The winner also receives an opportunity to create a detailed business strategy with Gowling WLG and MNP LLP. The two companies will help guide Neuraura through complicated regulatory processes and securing patents.
“I’m excited to be part of the medical technology network in Calgary,” says Wijdenes. “Everyone is so generous with mentorship and advice. It’s unique to Calgary and something to be proud of.”
The pair is now working toward introducing their product to the neuromodulation market, which is predicted to be bigger than the cardiac pacemaker market, says Dalton.
“This team has made something that is viable and is going to help in the long run,” says TENET i2c founder Ken Moore. “We really think this technology is going to make a difference.”
Rhinoclear Nasal Care Solutions
Dr. Brad Mechor, ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Calgary Sinus Centre, believes that many nasal sinus diseases can be treated with daily sinus cleansing. He’s designed a refillable, sanitary bottle that’s comfortable to use with a pre-made nasal rinse solution, which he also created and is approved by Health Canada. Both products are ready to launch to market.
“It's like mouthwash for the nose,” he says. “It’s important for preventing and treating colds, allergies and for those living in dry climates and polluted areas around the world.”
Mechor also invented a nose bleed plug that dissolves on contact to seal blood vessels. Faced with patients experiencing daily nose bleeds, Mechor searched for an alternative to painful nasal packing and cauterization. He created the nose bleed plug and is now expanding the plug's functionality by working to incorporate medications. He believes we’ll eventually see this nose bleed plug in every first aid kit around the world.
Team members: Brad Mechor (president, MD, FRCSC, assistant clinical professor), Merle Olson (DVM) and the chief medical product development team.
This team of physicians, behaviour scientists and dietitians are doing work in the area of digestive disease that no other group in Canada is engaged in.
“Most physicians are not aware of alternative options to medication,” says gastroenterologist Dr. Maitreyi Raman. “We are using nutrition to move away from medication.”
Accompanied by Lorian Taylor, registered dietitian and research scientist, Raman presented a smartphone application that assists patients with inflammatory bowel disease in making appropriate meal choices based on Advanced Living's unique, scientifically proven food database. Each patient will also have access to a personalized treatment plan that encourages behavioural change through individualized nutrition, exercise consultations and health coaching. Future plans include an online grocery store and expanding the team's reach to patients with fatty liver disease.
- Team members: Maitreyi Raman (clinical associate professor, gastroenterologist and physician nutrition specialist), Lorian Taylor (registered dietitian and research scientist), Dayna Zarn (registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, nutrition consultant), and Puneeta Tandon (hepatologist and gastroenterologist).
Check Engine Light
“When most runners feel pain in their knee, they attempt to run through it,” says Reed Ferber, PhD, director of the Running Injury Clinic. “This results in 50 per cent of runners being injured every year.”
Using existing technology, such as a FitBit or Apple Watch, Ferber created a detailed algorithm to track your typical movement pattern. When the runner starts to stray from their normal pattern, the Check Engine Light app will sound a warning. The device then provides “actionable insights” to inform the runner what they’re doing differently and make suggestions to avoid future injury. Later, the runner can go to one of 100 running clinics worldwide where they can get their knee diagnosed by licensed health-care professionals using modelling software 3DGait or KinetiGait.
- Team member: Reed Ferber, PhD (professor, director of Running Injury Clinic).
Although approximately half of all cancer patients require radiotherapy, it’s a laborious and time-consuming process to plan internal radiation treatments, called brachytherapy, for breast cancer. Medical physicist Michael Roumeliotis, PhD, and his team from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre have designed a software that cuts planning time from many hours to minutes.
“The user will upload patient information — each of which have their own unique anatomical shape, tumour size and location — and in a few minutes, a plan is generated that includes a complex map of radioactive seed locations that they can implant,” says Roumeliotis.
In early 2018, this research was published in Brachytherapy. As a result, Okolo Health is aiming to work with a commercial partner to supply the entire American market for breast brachytherapy.
- Team members: Michael Roumeliotis and Tyler Meyer (founders of Okolo Health and adjunct assistant professors), and Christian Bagg (founder and designer).
Commercial activity trackers and smartwatches “don't meet the needs or challenges that a stroke survivor experiences,” says founder Riley Booth, recent graduate from the biomedical engineering program. To solve this problem, his team has created a stroke-specific activity tracker that focuses on building movement into an everyday habit that doesn't take any extra effort or therapy appointments.
“This will be an effective, long-term, home-based solution,” he says.
The tracker, called The Move, comes with an associated mobile app that measures, supports and encourages activity and full recovery by measuring relevant stroke recovery activity. It complements scheduled therapy sessions, allowing the therapist to track the efficacy of their program and see their patient's activity level. Going forward, The Move will be tested by Alberta Health Services mobile stroke recovery unit.
- Team members: Riley Booth (founder and recent MSc graduate of biomedical engineering program) and Jacob George (founder and MSc candidate of biomedical engineering program).
An experienced surgeon uses predictable levels of force on his tools but it takes years of practice to develop the skill and proficiency. To teach surgeons-in-training to maintain appropriate levels of force and thereby improve the safety of surgery, Dr. Garnette Sutherland, together with his team at OrbSurgical, have invented the SmartForceps, a sensorized bipolar forceps that provides instant force feedback and error warning to the user. A computer interface allows monitoring of forces over time, which allows trainees to track skill level and experience. Sutherland has already begun production through Bissinger GmbH, Germany, a premier bipolar forceps manufacturer, and plans to launch the SmartForceps at various neurosurgical conferences in early 2019.
- Team members: Sanju Lama (MD, PhD, clinical integration of neuroArm Technologies), Kourosh Zareinia, PhD, PEng (chief electrical engineer), and Garnette Sutherland (MD, FRCS, project lead).
The teams in the TENET i2c competition include representatives throughout the University of Calgary including the Schulich School of Engineering, and the faculties of nursing and kinesiology. The largest number of participants are with the Cumming School of Medicine and represent a number of departments and institutes including the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, and the departments of clinical neurosciences, community health sciences, medicine, surgery and oncology.
The TENET i2c competition is supported by Alberta Innovates, MNP LLP, Gowling WLG, CTI, and Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.