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$1.65 million will support launch of new biomedical technology graduate program.
By Annemarie Vander Veen
Office of Research
Health technology is a growing industry and research priority in Canada. From pacemakers to implants to prosthetic limbs, we’re surrounded by medical innovations that improve our lives.
To be truly effective, these innovations must be designed by a special type of engineer – one who can identify medical technology needs, solve challenging engineering problems, and manage partnerships at the interface of engineering and health.
Catherine Burns, professor of systems design engineering and executive director of the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology, has been awarded a Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) grant to establish a biomedical engineering graduate program that will help produce this type of engineer. The $1.65 million grant awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will help fund a new program in global biomedical technology research and innovation at Waterloo starting in the fall of 2018, the only one of its kind in Canada.
“Most students come out of biomedical engineering graduate programs as great researchers, but not necessarily with a good understanding of how the industry works. This program will produce students who know both the research side and the business side of the industry,” said Professor Burns.
Focusing on a unique “needs first” approach to research, the program will encourage students to understand problems in a real-world setting before developing solutions. To understand the needs of medical technology users, students will get out into the field to work alongside clinicians and patients.
At Grand River Hospital (GRH), a partner in the program, students will work in settings relevant to their area of research which will inform the inquiry and development stages of their work with results that will provide immediate value not only to students but also to care provided at GRH. Other partners include Starfish Medical and Synaptive Medical.
The curriculum at Waterloo will include clinic and industry internships, commercialization courses, international exchanges, and professional skills workshops. Students will graduate knowing how to work with patients and clinicians, and understanding medical device regulation. They will also have the skills and industry contacts in place to help secure jobs in the biomedical industry or commercialize their own inventions.
“The technical expertise, professional skills, and interdisciplinary experience students gain in this program will produce biomedical engineers capable of transforming the Canadian health technology landscape,” said Charmaine Dean, vice-president, university research. “It’s also another step in growing Waterloo’s role in the biotechnology and research ecosystem.”
One proposed initiative for the program is at Toronto Western Hospital, where a Critical Care physician manages a large amount of data on brain injuries. Her goal is to integrate the data with data from laboratory and patient records, which will provide new insights into the complex physiological relationships in brain injury patients. Students in the program will work with her to acquire an understanding of brain injuries, and then develop a data integration solution.
Each student will be part of a team that includes a research supervisor, a clinician, and the manager of a biomedical engineering company. Before they begin their research, students will need to prove that they’ve spent time with clinicians and patients in settings relevant to their area of research. This will help ensure that the solutions they develop are viable and easier to commercialize.