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FluidAI, co-founded by graduate Youssef Helwa (MASc ’17), is one of several University of Waterloo startups making significant contributions to health-tech in Canada.HILARY GAULD

Canada is home to 38 million people and growing. More people means more health care is needed. And yet, we face an exceedingly strained health-care system. Now, more than ever, Canada and the world need health-care innovation.

That’s where researchers at the University of Waterloo are making big strides. “Waterloo is advancing significant research and commercialization endeavours at the interface between technology and health,” says Charmaine Dean, Waterloo’s vice-president of Research and International. “New technologies with the potential to reshape aspects of medicine and its delivery are under development by researchers across the university, including the potential to revolutionize valuable health data.”

In particular, Waterloo’s new Transformative Health Technologies initiative, in collaboration with industry and community partners, will deliver health-care solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, and is poised to lead a health transformation and drive Canada’s next wave of economic growth.

Innovative health-tech

Waterloo’s solutions include a next-generation diabetes monitor that uses gas sensors to analyze breath to check blood sugar levels. This would replace the needle pricks that most diabetics must perform multiple times a day. Similarly, a tiny painless wearable patch is in the works for people with type 1 diabetes with the vision that eventually such all-in-one patches would continuously monitor glucose and ketone levels, and deliver insulin based on those readings.

" New technologies with the potential to reshape aspects of medicine and its delivery are under development by researchers across the university.

Charmaine Dean Vice-President of Research and International, University of Waterloo

Researchers have also developed a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that makes cancerous tissue light up and, therefore, easier to see in medical images to help with cancer detection, tracking of progression and screening. Further developments will take MRI technology to the molecular level to help better identify and understand diseases.

Commercializing such innovations is critical so Canadians and citizens around the world can actually benefit from them. Waterloo startup FluidAI, for instance, has recently received Health Canada approval for its smart monitoring system that alerts health-care providers to possible complications following abdominal surgery. Identifying leaks, bleeds or potential infections early can greatly affect outcomes as these complications are typically clinically silent, presenting no symptoms until the issue becomes life threatening.

Going beyond tech

Waterloo’s strength in interdisciplinary research means innovation goes beyond the application of technology and extends to the study of the social determinants of health, including healthy aging, tobacco control and diminishing substance use. Additionally, by enhancing the understanding of societal responses to technical and policy interventions, researchers can help stem viral spreads to mitigate their impact on the most vulnerable communities.

“Canada is facing a health-care provision crisis with escalating costs, shortage of health-care professionals, and increasing needs from a diverse and aging population,” says Dr. Dean. “Waterloo researchers and entrepreneurs are leading health innovation in Canada through technological advances and health data applications to create an equitable landscape of access to care and enhancing overall care for patients.”

From smart health-monitoring devices and high-resolution imaging technology to enhanced social understanding around health issues, the University of Waterloo’s innovative work helps to make a positive difference in the quality of people’s lives.

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