Graham Seed Fund recipients

The mission of the Graham Seed Fund is to strengthen the University’s health system partnerships by providing resources for collaborating directly with a full range of health providers and clinicians.

Round one recipients

Congratulations to ten award recipients who span across five Waterloo faculties. Their partnerships range from local hospitals and provincial health-care providers to industry partners and international universities and organizations.

Alex Wong, Systems Design Engineering

Partner(s): Grand River Hospital

AI for identifying and addressing inequities in the health systems to improve patient outcomes

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered data-driven models hold the promise of delivering timely quality care to patients in large healthcare systems. While the pandemic is exacerbating the acute shortage of Canadian healthcare workers, machine learning (ML) models have emerged as a necessary component of healthcare strategies. However, AI algorithms critically rely on historical patient data and records for training. As a result, they can lead to significant model performance disparities for protected attributes (e.g. age, gender, etc.) by: a) reinforcing any historical systemic biases in the data, and/or b) generating unreliable outcomes for under-represented populations. Since Canadian healthcare systems cater to an increasingly diverse populations, identifying such systemic biases, and data reliability risks is key for developing trustworthy healthcare solutions that can complement healthcare workers. Our collaboration with Grand River Hospital aims to carry-out this foundational work, establishing the groundwork for trustworthy AI-driven healthcare for the KW region and Canada.

Anita Layton, Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, Pharmacy and Biology

Partner(s): University of Toronto, University of Colorado, NorthShore University Health System

Clinical risk assessment tool for diabetic kidney disease in youth with type 2 diabetes

Puberty amplifies the risk of kidney injury in youth with obesity and diabetes, yet the mechanisms remain unknown. Puberty is a complex process of physiological changes including neurohormonal activation and drastic organ growth that predispose organs to injury, and the kidneys may be especially susceptible, given their high metabolic demand. During puberty, the kidneys almost double in size and this growth likely increases the kidneys’ already high energy expenditure. However, there is a paucity of kidney physiology studies interrogating the effects of puberty on kidney function in youth with and without pre-existing renal risk factors. To fully interrogate the complex and heterogenous morphometric, metabolic, and hemodynamic changes the kidneys undergo in response to puberty, we seek to integrate multi-dimensional data to identify mechanistic pathways using machine learning, with the goal of developing a clinical risk assessment tool for diabetic kidney disease in youth with diabetes.

Ben Thompson, Optometry and Vision Science

Partner(s): University of Waterloo Optometry Clinic

Enhancing adherence to amblyopia treatment using social robotics

Amblyopia, sometimes referred to as “lazy eye”, is a vision disorder affecting one eye that can lead to permanent vision loss if not successfully treated in childhood. The gold standard treatment for amblyopia involves covering the better seeing eye with a patch for 2-6 hours each day to encourage use of the amblyopic eye. Patching treatment is effective, but it only works if it is applied consistently. Unfortunately, many children and families find it difficult to follow the patching regime. This project will combine expertise in amblyopia treatment, social robotics and engagement with patients and their families to develop a social robot that can enhance understanding of amblyopia and its treatment. The resulting technology will increase adherence with amblyopia therapy and reduce the risk of life-long vision loss.

Charity Oga-Omenka, School of Public Health Sciences

Partner(s): TB Public-Private Mix Learning Network, Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria

Development of a website for TB care linkages between the public and private sector providers in Nigeria

Tuberculosis is a leading cause of illness and death globally with over 10 million infections in 2021. According to the World Health Organization, almost half of those infected were not diagnosed. Nigeria is among 5 countries accounting for most of this gap in diagnosis. Progress towards ending tuberculosis in settings like Nigeria has been hampered by weak linkages between the public sector where most tuberculosis healthcare services are available, and the private sector where most people go to first when they fall ill. Online technologies have the potential to improve TB control in settings like Nigeria, including improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment, laboratory, and national information management systems, contact tracing, and adherence monitoring and support for those infected. Our study will conduct an assessment towards developing a web-based portal to improve tuberculosis surveillance, diagnosis, and treatment in Nigeria.

Dillon Browne, Psychology

Partner(s): Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre, Family Psychology Centre Toronto, Children and Youth Planning Table Region of Waterloo

Virtual Psychotherapy for University Students Enhanced by Natural Language Processing: A Randomized Pilot Study of Artificial Intelligence using the Get A-Head® Software

 The goal of this industry partnership is to assess feasibility of a larger trial examining the efficacy of psychotherapy enhanced with natural language processing (NLP) for reducing mental health problems in university students. NLP is an artificial intelligence (AI) approach to analyzing linguistic data. The algorithms are already incorporated into our partner’s cutting-edge platform: Get A-Head®. This innovative health technology was recently backed by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and will be used to deliver virtual psychotherapy to University of Waterloo students. They will be randomly assigned to virtual therapy enhanced with NLP feedback on emotions for therapists and clients, or the same therapy without NLP (active control). The proposed innovation will promote accessible care for underserved young people, including 2SLGTBQ+, international, and racialized students.

Lili Liu, School of Public Health Sciences

Partner(s): Alzheimer Society of Ontario, CareLective, Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke

Acceptance and usability of the GuardIO, a mobile application to support care partners of persons living with dementia

The goal of this project is to examine the acceptance and usability of GuardIO - Family Care, mobile application. It supports persons with cognitive impairment and their care-partners to develop risk mitigation strategies through understanding the patterns of their mobility by leveraging a cloud-based telematics platform licensed by Health Canada. This enables the care-partners to receive timely care and support. This app is developed by WeTraq and available on app stores and SunLife Lumino Health marketplace. It combines GPS and WiFi to provide real-time location monitoring and safety alerts. It does not require additional device other than one’s personal smartphone. Participants are 20 dyads of persons living with dementia and their care-partners (total 40), 30% from an Indigenous community. Increasing prevalence of dementia in Canada calls for strategies like GuardIO to address risks of getting lost and going missing while supporting the health and wellbeing of persons aging in place.

Mahla Poudineh, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Partner(s): Grand River Hospital, McMaster University, Google

A new transdermal patch to continuously and without pain track and treat diabetes

We will develop a new artificial pancreas device (APD) system that is small (~ diameter = 3”) and is capable of simultaneously measuring insulin and glucose levels and delivering the correct dosages of insulin. Our system can be easily applied by diabetic patients, without pain. Our device reaches interstitial fluid (the fluid under the skin) to measure insulin and glucose and deliver insulin to the dermal layer of skin. Our APD system will change diabetes management and prevent diabetic complications.

Mihaela Vlasea, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering

Partner(s): St. Mary’s General Hospital, Grand River Hospital

Design of novel glaucoma stent

This work intends to combine the expertise and imagination of the Waterloo engineering team and the guidance of the clinical teams to design a new eye implant to treat glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disease that can result in blindness and affects many Canadians; this research intends to improve on existing implant solutions. The Waterloo team is deploying “additive manufacturing” (or 3D-printing) to design a proof-of-concept device to improve the treatment of the disease, leveraging the complex designs possible through the printing technology. This proof-of-concept device will be a crucial step towards future refined iterations that will be clinically tested. The work is an exciting collaboration among engineering, ophthalmology, and optometry that can impact various universities and organizations in Ontario and beyond.    

Monica R. Maly, Kinesiology and Health Sciences

Partner(s): Arthritis Society Canada

Electronic-free, closed-loop soft robotic regenerative system for assisting people living with knee osteoarthritis

Over 10 million Canadians will develop osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis.  OA causes chronic joint pain, restricts mobility and occurs most often at the knee.  There is no cure.  We will test an innovative robotic system to be integrated within a conventional knee brace as a treatment that improves mobility in people living with knee OA.  Our novel robotic system harnesses the energy produced by the leg during walking to deliver forces that counteract abnormal mechanical forces that act on the knee due to OA.  Support from the Graham Seed Fund will enable the translation of this proof-of-concept, engineering-focused innovation in the next step toward practically improving healthcare for people with OA.

Veronika Magdanz, Systems Design Engineering

Partner(s): University Hospital Barcelona, University of Balearic Islands, Devicare

Microrobotic chemolytic kidney stone removal

About 10% of Canadians suffer from kidney stones at some point of their lives, with a high recurrence rate of up to 80%. Kidney stones can cause blockage of the urinary tract and severe pain. Conventional treatment of kidney stones involves oral treatment, or laparoscopic surgery, in case of ureter blockage and very large stones. We propose an innovative treatment of kidney stones with the help of small, flexible, wireless robots. These magnetic, millimeter-sized robots enter through a catheter into the ureter, are navigated to the kidney stone by weak external magnetic fields and locally dissolve the stones by chemical reactions. This research will offer a novel, less invasive and more targeted strategy for kidney stone treatment and can be extended to treating other kidney diseases in the future.