June 20, 2024

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Top health-tech innovations we’re following in 2024 | Waterloo News

Global and individual health care is experiencing disruption through a variety of technologies. Building disruptive technologies is at the core of what we do, and since our inception, the University of Waterloo has also been disrupting the boundaries of health.

Explore just some of the health-tech innovations springing up from the University’s ecosystem that we will be keeping an eye on this year.

Evolved.Bio — Regenerating muscle tissue

Evolved.Bio has been based at Velocity, Canada’s most successful startup incubator, since 2021. Co-founded by Alireza Shahin and John Cappuccitti, Evolved.Bio has introduced an innovative method for regenerating damaged muscle tissue, offering new hope for individuals with significant muscle injuries. Unlike other biotech approaches that use materials and cells to create in vitro-grown tissue replacements, Evolved.Bio’s technique enables cells to recreate the components and structure of healthy tissue outside the body. This approach minimizes the risk of the body perceiving the tissues as foreign objects once implanted.

Both co-founders said being plugged into Velocity’s network has helped forge indispensable connections as the company developed its emerging technology.  

GraphNovo — Personalizing medicine with AI

GraphNovo, developed by PhD candidate Zeping Mao and Dr. Ming Li, a computer science professor, is a machine learning program enhancing cell analysis for a more precise understanding of peptide sequences. Peptides, comparable to DNA or RNA, are crucial for the immune system’s recognition of irregular cells. GraphNovo improves accuracy by using machine learning to fill gaps in sequencing, especially challenging for novel diseases or cancer cells.

Mao and Li foresee practical applications in areas such cancer treatment and vaccine development, highlighting its potential in real-world medical scenarios. Their study, published in Nature Machine Intelligence, reflects the incredible work being done at Waterloo aimed at advancing the intersection of technology and health.

New breast cancer screening method

Dr. Omar Ramahi, a professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team are developing an innovative, cost-effective, and non-invasive method for early breast cancer detection, potentially surpassing current diagnostic tools like X-ray mammography.

The team has created a diagnostic device using low-frequency electromagnetic energy, emitted from an antenna similar to a smartphone’s. The technology, which operates in just two minutes and is safer than X-rays, utilizes AI to interpret images, identifying tumor size and location even in dense breast tissue. Successful tests on breast phantoms have shown promising results, and the researchers aim to secure funding for human trials, envisioning a globally accessible and convenient diagnostic tool.

Painless diabetes patch

Dr. Mahla Poudineh, a professor and director of the IDEATION Lab at Waterloo, is developing a one-centimeter square-shaped wearable patch for individuals with type 1 diabetes. The patch, equipped with flexible microneedles, provides painless and minimally invasive real-time monitoring of glucose and ketone levels in the interstitial fluid. The disposable device, worn for one or two weeks, communicates with smartphones via Bluetooth, alerting users and health-care providers to critical level changes.

Funded by JDRF and recognized by Johnson & Johnson Scholars Award Program, Poudineh aims to create an affordable, innovative solution that could revolutionize diabetes management, potentially preventing life-threatening complications. Commercialization plans and partnerships with established companies are currently being explored.

PatientCompanion — Connecting patients with nurses

PatientCompanion, founded by engineering student Christy Lee, is a user-friendly communication app designed to bridge the gap between nurses and patients, enhancing the patient experience while alleviating stress and burnout for nurses. PatientCompanion allows patients to make specific requests via the app, automatically prioritizing them for nurses.

The app, developed based on Lee’s observations during volunteer work, aims to streamline communication, ensuring urgent requests are promptly addressed and non-urgent ones are efficiently distributed, ultimately reducing the workload and enhancing efficiency for health-care providers.

Pliantech — Spinal implants

Dr. Stewart McLachlin, a professor in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and engineering student Jonah Leinwand have co-founded Pliantech to develop a spinal implant aimed at enhancing neck mobility and reducing complications from artificial disc replacement surgeries.

Inspired by NHL player Jack Eichel’s spinal disc replacement challenges, the team created a flexible titanium device using bio-design compliant mechanisms and 3D printing. The implant mimics the spine’s natural movement, addressing biomechanical challenges in existing artificial discs. Recognized as a winner at the Fall 2023 Velocity Pitch Competition, Pliantech’s device sits between vertebrae, offering controlled movement to prevent complications and improve patient outcomes. The startup is utilizing Waterloo’s world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem to advance its innovative solution.

Roga — Wearable wellness device

Roga has developed a wearable mental wellness device aimed at providing stress relief for those who cannot afford therapy or face limitations with medications. Worn like headphones, the device stimulates the peripheral nerve behind each ear, reducing worry and rumination. Paired with an app featuring AI-guided meditations, Roga’s non-invasive stimulation is based on decades of research and has shown promise in reducing stress symptoms.

Co-founders Dr. Alison Smith (PhD ’09) and Ami Lebendiker, who personally experienced anxiety disorders, aspire to obtain medical device status to reach a broader patient population, leveraging Velocity and its programs for support and growth.

Vital Bio — Improving blood diagnostics

Vital Bio, a startup incubated at Velocity, has unveiled the VitalOne, a desktop-sized blood diagnostics device capable of running comprehensive tests on small blood samples in just 20 minutes. The device won the Disruptive Technology Award at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry conference.

Co-founder and CEO Vasu Nadella envisions the VitalOne transforming diagnostics, making them ubiquitous and enabling new forms of care delivery. The device offers easy-to-use blood diagnostics, providing results in real-time and potentially facilitating immediate health interventions. The company aims to revolutionize routine diagnostics, aligning with its vision of achieving impactful success in patients’ health lives and the health-care system.