NRC brainstorms biomedical breakthroughs

One of the key methods of transferring new biomedical technologies developed in research labs to the public is finding users to adopt the product, followed by suppliers to take them to market, according to the National Research Council Institute for Information Technology.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach,” said Christian Couturier, director general of the NRC-ITT in Fredericton.

Air Canada, for example, took part in the recently completed Integrated Diagnostic System (IDS) project that explored software-based diagnostic methods for maintaining equipment. The IDS tool categorizes real-time aircraft-generated messages to alert technicians to potential problems, allowing them to respond faster and more efficiently. Beyond the airline industry, the software application can be used by health-care workers as a data mining tool in text-based searches, said Couturier.

“Search tools are something that’s been excellent in the past,” said Couturier, who was speaking at the Biomedical Technology Development Forum Wednesday in Markham, Ont. Conference attendees included researchers, managers and business leaders of biomedical technology enterprises and organizations across Ontario.

At the conference, Couturier shared some of the recent work the Fredericton site has been involved in, including a bioinformatics tool that allows researchers to determine gene function such as those related to Alzheimer’s. Other benefits of the tool include the acceleration of new drugs and more accurate diagnoses.

Automatic categorization of x-rays, for example, allows a physician to search a radiologist report for a more precise clinical interpretation.

“Ninety-four per cent of arthritis cases have been flagged to physicians using this method,” said Couturier.

Courtier also discussed 3D image capture and 3D localization technology used in 3D scanners that reduce radiation and increase patient throughput.

NRC also showcased its recently opened Biomedical Polymers Laboratories at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (IMI) in Boucherville, Que. The laboratory, which opened in June, currently supports design of catheters and medical balloons, scaffolds for tissue and drug administration and biomedical tissues for testing and surgical simulation.

The lab, which receives the bulk of its funding from NRC, is currently working with Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal on tissue engineering and Foothills Hospital in Calgary on surgical simulation. Surgical simulation allows new neurosurgeons to train without using a real patient, said Robert DiRaddo, group leader, intelligent forming technologies at NRC IMI.

“Surgical simulation helps surgeons evaluate surgical recipes,” said DiRaddo, who also presented at Wednesday’s conference.

Tissue engineering replaces the conventional mode of implants with polymer scaffolds that degenerate over time and is used in cartilage and bone regeneration. This technology is currently not available for organ replacements, added DiRaddo.

Among other projects, the lab is also providing the infrastructure for smaller enterprises to make medical balloons used in heart surgery, for example, in-house rather than buying them from manufacturers in the U.S.

NRC also discussed a multi-million dollar, three-year research program called Genomics Health Information (GHI) that involves the Institute for Biodiagnostics (IBD) and IMI. The project, which commenced in April, is focused on developing surgical simulation and imaging technologies for cardiovascular research. Ian Smith, director general of NRC IBD in Winnipeg said researchers are currently studying the effects of stopping blood flow during surgery to the heart and brain using live pigs as test subjects. Researchers are using a combination of MRI and MRS technologies to track anatomical and chemical responses to changes in blood flow.

“This means better surgical techniques and recovery time,” said Smith. “It also means better use of pharmaceuticals.”

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