National Research Council uses DSP for disease detection

Canada’s National Research Council is working on a project that will use digital signal processing technology to help track diseases before they start.

The NRC recently formed a partnership with a Vancouver-based startup, Joule Microsystems, whereby its Winnipeg-based Institute of Biodiagnostics (IBD) will use Joule hardware and co-develop applications with digital signal processing (DSP). The Institute of Biodiagnostic’s Spectroscopy Group may be able to use DSP — a way of manipulating sound or visual information once it has been converted from analogue to digital form — for cell research and to detect intestinal problems and tooth cavities.

NCR researchers typically use what’s called fluorescence or infra-red spectroscopy, which studies light emissions at the molecular level, to do this work. But Mike Sowa, senior research officer with the NRC-IBD, said Joule’s products would provide greater sensitivity than the usual methods.

“”A lot of our instrumentation and a lot of our applications are moving out of the lab and towards real-time applications,”” he said. “”Some of them are computationally intensive. Clearly the move is towards some DSP capability there.””

Joule originally designed its DSP products for other areas like microbiological detection systems for water. The company may also try and sell its JouleOS to companies that want to help combat food-borne illnesses.

“”We don’t see ourselves as end application developer but rather a developer of a system platform that people can build on,”” said Joule’s president, Bruce Adams.

Sowa said the NRC may also apply Joule technology to improve water quality detection systems that could prevent Walkerton-like tragedies.

“”That’s an area we can work on,”” he said. “”We’re obviously interested in pathogens and methods that can identify the various pathogens or at least distinguish certain sub-classes.””

The IBD employs more than 200 people. Its intention is to do more than provide research. So far, for example, the centre has established five spin-off companies with total sales to date reaching $15 million. Sowa said working with Joule holds considerable promise.

“”We think we can probably create fairly inexpensive flouresence-based or other spectroscopic-based techniques using their DSP and proprietary signal analysis techniques,”” he said.

Adams said Joule was introduced to the NRC through the industrial research assistance program, which recognized the potential for DSP technology in what the IBD is working on.

“”We needed to find somebody that would develop applications for our technology,”” he said. “”Really, there is no other place like the Institute of Biodiagnostics.””

The first project involving Joule got underway this month, Sowa said. One Joule employee will be on site in the

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