Stem cell researchers plant wireless roots

William Stanford is used to thinking about transplants, not undergoing one himself.

The assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) was recently uprooted

from his lab at Mt. Sinai Hospital to a new one at the university. As a transplanted organ can give the recipient a new lease on life, so the move has given Stanford and his researchers a chance for a new start.

“”We were basically starting from scratch, so we could do whatever we wanted,”” he said.

The IBBME uses genetics as a tool to investigate the basic mechanisms of stem cell biology. By manipulating stem cells it plans to develop tissues and organs for transplantation. This type of research falls under the heading of regenerative medicine.

Not only were they given more lab and workspace room, but offices as well. The offices, however, are located 300 metres away. The university decided it would take too long and cost too much to hardwire the various locations and looked for another solution. @lliance Technologies, a 3Com channel partner, proposed a wireless setup.

Time and money aside, Stanford said wiring the lab would have been problematic.

“”We had limited wall space with Internet jacks and the benches which people use to do their work really come out from the wall and are kind of free floating in the lab,”” he said.

“”A standard connection at their lab bench wasn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. We also wanted to allow mobility for the students to work at the computer both at their lab bench as well as take their laptop down to their office.””

Bruce Comeau, a business network specialist for 3Com Canada said more and more universities and research facilities are going wireless.

“”A lot of education facilities are taking advantage of the technology to allow students or academics easier access to information, increasing their efficiency or effectiveness,”” he said.

“”A lot of students and teachers have laptops computers or PDAs and a lot of the laptops these days are shipping with built-in wireless cards. From a student or researcher perspective they probably have the technology already. It’s just a matter of putting the technology in place to make it accessible.””

The wireless network is comprised of three Access Point 8000s, XJack Antenna PC cards for the students and researchers, and facilities are connected through a 4 dBi Omnidirectional Antenna with 128-bit encryption. The system operates under the 802.11b standard.

Stanford called the project very successful. He said he’s seen productivity improvements in the students and post-doctoral fellows, as they are free to escape the hustle and bustle of the lab and find a quiet spot to work.

He has also been impressed by the system’s flexibility and service. Stanford said the 20-plus researchers are using a number of operating systems — Linux, Windows, Mac OS 9 and X — and configurations and the network hasn’t skipped a beat. He attributed this in part to @lliance coming in a couple times a month to run diagnostic tests.

“”We trouble shoot as much internally as much as possible and then if something doesn’t make sense or we just need an answer real quickly we dial up @lliance and they normally have someone on campus or close by,”” Stanford said.

While the procedure has been relatively pain free, wireless networks carry certain concerns. At the top of the list is security. Stanford said the data is well protected thanks to a top-of-the-line firewall.

The SuperStack 3 Firewall is an International Computer Security Association-certified firewall, according to Comeau, which supports virtual private network tunnel initiation and termination. The system has other tricks up its sleeve. He said the browser-base networking monitoring application can detect unauthorized users, the access points can be setup to not broadcast their ID and allow access to specific PC cards only.

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