Professor and Tier I Canada Research Chair Carlo Menon is leading a nearly $3.5-million, CFI-funded project to accelerate research into technologies for improving the lives of people living with mobility impairments.

CFI Innovation Fund Series: wearable technologies transforming healthcare sector

November 23, 2017

This story originally appeared in SFU News

SFU professor and Tier I Canada Research Chair, Carlo Menon, whose research focuses on biomedical technology, is leading an SFU research project that has received nearly $3.5 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The project, to establish a Centre for Wearable Biomedical Technologies, is one of five SFU-led research projects benefiting from the CFI Innovation Fund. The project’s goal: to accelerate research that can improve the quality of life for those with mobility impairments.

SFU News spoke with Menon about this innovative research project built on collaborative, interdisciplinary work dedicated to improving the lives of those with disabilities.

Tell us about your proposal’s research goals. 

 WearBioTech is a proposed research centre that will consolidate existing expertise and partnerships, forge new collaborations, and provide access to leading-edge equipment provided by the CFI Innovation Fund. The goal is to develop innovative, wearable biomedical technologies. These can assist with daily activities, permit unsupervised rehabilitation at home, encourage proactive personal health management and allow ubiquitous monitoring of a patient’s health condition, regardless of location.

The project concept is to facilitate knowledge translation by bringing together partners across academia, government, industry and the end-users to efficiently move wearable biomedical technologies from proof of concept to the market.

How will the centre support this research?

The centre will consolidate equipment for different infrastructure modules that support the research goals and objectives. This equipment includes transducers and electronics for developing innovative sensors, actuators and energy harvesters, along with equipment to fabricate advanced mechanical components.

Other equipment will help to integrate sensors and artificial muscles in textiles and garments, to characterize developed technologies, and to test these wearable technologies with volunteers in health studies.

The research team includes internationally renowned material scientists and engineers who can produce these new technologies and introduce them into the market.

The centre’s infrastructure will also support health scientists who use biomedical technologies daily in their clinical research and/or practice, and who recognize the pressing need for new technologies in the healthcare system.

Explain the fundamental values of your research and why your research is important to Canadians and global citizens.

The wearable biomedical technology sector is exponentially growing, and has the potential to radically transform the future of healthcare.

Motivated by increasing healthcare costs and recent technological advances in miniature electromechanical devices, smart textiles and microelectronics, wearable biomedical technologies are supporting a shift from disease treatment to prevention. The result: medical care will become more personalized, prompting a shift in medical standards.

What would you like the public to know about your research project and research goals?

This CFI investment will create a central hub for creating, developing and validating wearable biomedical technologies in Canada. The investment has the potential to help position WearBioTech as a global leader in this expanding worldwide market, and to play a significant role in growing Canada’s prominence in this sector.

Tell us about your academic background, research interests and what led you to where you are today in your career.

I received my engineering degree (2001) and PhD (2005) from the University of Padua in Italy. In 2005, I joined the European Space Agency, where I studied how to take inspiration from biological examples and create engineering analogs. In 2007, I joined SFU as an assistant professor and began to turn my basic engineering science discoveries into health-related applications.

My work has led me to investigate new rehabilitation methods and technologies—including robotics and wearable sensors—to help individuals with mobility impairments to recover motor function or, if further improvement is not possible, to live more independently and have a better quality of life.

My laboratory has performed different studies with healthy volunteers and with individuals suffering from a variety of medical conditions and, as a result, is developing innovative mechatronic technologies. This work has now led us to establish the Wearable Biomedical Technologies Centre (WearBioTech). 

What are some of your key research successes and how do these inform your future research plans? Are there any challenges you’d like to share?

A branch of my research addresses how to assist individuals who have suffered a stroke to recover the motor functions of their arm long after the stroke has occurred. A recent research study—using technology developed in my lab—has provided preliminary evidence that this is possible. This result was relevant both for the engineering and clinical communities.

This acquired knowledge has informed my future research aimed at validating such a finding with a larger study. The main challenge—and at the same time, a primary exciting aspect of this research—is the interdisciplinary nature of this work, which requires knowledge and expertise in multiple sectors including mechatronics, computing, rehabilitation and neuroscience.

How is your research innovative and cutting-edge, and why did it attract CFI funding?

Creating wearable technologies requires innovations in sensors, actuators, materials, computing, system design and biomechanics. Bringing together expertise from all the stakeholders in one centre provides a leading approach to solving the challenges of developing wearable technologies, and establishing a global leadership position in this sector.

Deep research feeds innovation. SFU is applying research to real-world problems and providing resources that enable our researchers to become leaders in innovation. Learn more about SFU Innovates and how we are moving ideas into action.