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McCaig Institute team wins $97K in TENET i2c competition

Associate Dean of Research Gerald Zamponi, Vivametrica CEO Rick Hu, and TENET CEO Ken Moore.

photo by Don Molyneaux

Wearable device analysis that predicts risk of disease wins $100,000 prize

Six teams pitched medical research products at second annual Tenet i2c competition

Researchers, surgeons and students presented ideas from blood tests to detect cancer in people and Lyme disease in dogs, to devices to help dry noses and stroke victims at the Tenet i2c competition at the Cumming School of Medicine on April 11. About 200 people, including doctors in scrubs, students with backpacks and plenty of people in business suits, turned out to the University of Calgary Foothills Campus to see teams present for 10 minutes and take tough questions from a panel of judges.

In the end, the winner was Vivametrica for its data analysis that helps insurance companies and health and wellness providers understand the health of clients. “The barrier to insurance products is really the amount of information people need to volunteer,” says Dr. Rick Hu, a spine surgeon and CEO and founder of Vivametrica. “Our analysis process is able to accurately estimate various chronic illnesses based on a small amount of information — seven days of a wearable device, age, gender, height, weight, and waist circumference.”  

Vivametrica, which has completed a pilot project in China, is getting a lot of interest from insurance companies around the world, and winning the competition will help enormously. “It allows us to make our business ready for these larger enterprises that we’re targeting as clients,” says Hu. “We need to be able to provide a product that a large company feels comfortable with and to get to that point we need to have resources and people to refine the product.”

Along with the prize money, Vivametrica will receive considerable legal and management support. “$100,000 doesn’t last that long, but getting companies some tools, some help and some mentoring along the way will hopefully get them on the right road,” says Ken Moore, one of the event sponsors and former president of TENET Medical Engineering, a company that began at UCalgary with a group of researchers.

 “In 1994, we received a grant of $75,000 and some timely mentorship from some friends and business associates and that, along with a lot of hard work, made us successful,” says Moore. “We’re trying to provide those basics to some other entrepreneurs who might be able to take those things, work hard, be smart, get a little bit lucky and be successful.”

Members of the Vivametrica team include Dr. Rick Hu, (CEO and founder), Christy Lane (COO and co-founder), and Matthew Smuck (chief scientific advisor and co-founder). Other members of the team include UCalgary alumni Cam Schwieder, Sarah Akierman, Qicheng Zhang, and Patrick Czeczko, and UBC and UWO alumni Rosabel Bong and Aliakbar Mohsenipour.

Other competitors at the Tenet iC2 competition were:

A blood test to detect colorectal cancer

Researchers have developed a blood test that analyzes metabolites, the chemical composition of the blood, to detect colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in North America. “The pattern of metabolites in the blood reflects the disease process,” says Dr. Oliver Bathe, a surgical oncologist. “We’re hoping that this is something that will replace the stool test that’s currently available because they are inconvenient and objectionable, and we think this would improve the compliance rate and be more cost effective.” The team includes Hans Vogel, an expert in metabolomics, Farshad Farshidfar, a postdoctoral fellow in metabolomics, biostatistician Karen Kopciuk, and gastroenterologist Robert Hilsden.

A home test for Lyme disease in dogs

TreAsure Assays Unleashed has developed an inexpensive and easy blood test and app to check dogs for Lyme disease. You take a pin-prick of blood from the flap of your dog’s ear after hiking or being outdoors and place it on a strip that will detect antibodies. You get a baseline by testing the dog after every hike, so you can see if the antibodies rise, indicating a disease. “We want to make sure that the dogs are monitored early on so they don’t suffer symptoms that can be missed,” says Jeroen De Buck, associate professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “It can take some time for you to decide if something’s off, and chances are you’ll wait and your dog is suffering.” The team includes veterinarian Cecile Riboud, MSc student Domonique Carson, and PhD student Marija Drikic.

Helping people recover from stroke at home

Rehable’s robotic elbow device uses engaging gamified software to help the 75 per cent of people who have some sort of arm impairment after suffering a stroke. “One of our key member’s father-in-law had a stroke and his arm was paralyzed, and we set out to find a solution to help him recover,” says Riley Booth, a MSc biomedical engineering student. “After the rehabilitation process in a clinic, our device helps you to do the stretching, assisted motion, motion tracking and strength training so you’ll do more and recover better.” The team includes biomedical engineering master's students Jacob George and Isaac Acosta, Kartikeya Murari, associate professor, Schulich School of Engineering, Calvenn Tsuu, mechanical engineer, and Dr. Sean Dukelow of the Cumming School of Medicine.

"Mouthwash for the nose"

As many as 20 per cent of people have chronic nasal and sinus disease and the founder of Rhinoclear Nasal Care Solutions sees a lot of them in his Calgary office. “For the last 10 years I’ve seen about 100 people a week and I tell every single one of them to rinse their nose” says Dr. Brad Mechor, an endoscopic sinus and skull base surgeon. “It’s so dry and windy here and there are a lot of pollutants in the air that cause nasal and sinus disease. This is like mouthwash for the nose; people should use it every single day to keep the nose clear and healthy.” Rhinoclear has developed an innovative bottle to apply the rinse to your nose. The company’s chief medical officer is Merle Olson.

Connecting ultrasounds anywhere to trauma doctors

teleTraumaDoc connects ultrasound in the field with trauma specialists in hospitals, allowing timely evaluation, remote diagnostics and early lifesaving interventions. “We developed an app to plug in an iPhone and broadcast the ultrasound across a cellular network,” says Dr. Paul McBeth. “We’ve been refining our prototype as well as identifying other clinical applications.” It’s the same premise that NASA uses with astronauts at the International Space Station. “A ‘just-in-time person’ in the remote location is guided by a person on the ground to diagnose everything and anything,” says Dr.  Andrew Kirkpatrick. Almost any user anywhere can be guided with standardized communication protocols for the early evaluation of a trauma patient. The third member of the team is former NASA flight surgeon Dr. Douglas Hamilton, clinical associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine.

The teams in the Tenet i2c competition included representatives from a wide variety of departments and institutes at the Cumming School of Medicine, including the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint HealthArnie Charbonneau Cancer InstituteSynder Institute for Chronic Diseases, and the departments of Surgery and Oncology.

Read about last year's winner here.