Smart blood pressure cuff coming soon, thanks to startup support

Promising UAlberta spinoffs, patent holders singled out for recognition by TEC Edmonton.

Discouraged by the lack of innovation in diagnosing high blood pressure-the number one risk of death and disability globally-Raj Padwal led a team of medical researchers who invented a portable, cuff-based system that monitors blood pressure and transmits data to smart devices, allowing for efficient and effective use of that data.

But then what?

With no expertise in how to commercialize his work, Padwal, a researcher in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, turned to the university's startup incubator, TEC Edmonton.

That was the inception of a spinoff company called mmHG, which, thanks to support from industry partners, is readying for a commercial release of the revolutionary blood monitoring device in 2019.

"Thanks to TEC Edmonton ... for showing us how to do this startup," said Padwal as he accepted a TEC Edmonton 2017 Innovation Award during a celebration Nov. 16. "We're really excited about the future. It is a condition that affects 1.5 billion people across the world. This company startup was born out of frustration with how blood pressure monitoring is currently done. We think we have some good ideas, we'll see, stay tuned."

Padwal and mmHG were among four spinoff companies honoured during the awards, along with 10 teams of researchers who received a patent with an active private partner in the past year.

"Part of the reason we're here today is to tell the story about the importance of commercialization, how significant the university is as an agent for innovation in the province and in the region, and make sure the world knows about all these great things happening here," said Chris Lumb, CEO of TEC Edmonton. "Our job is to support researchers so they can do what they do best, and that is create leading-edge, high-value innovations."

One of the 10 patent awards went to food engineering researchers Feral Temelli and Bernhard Seifried, who patented a spray-drying technique that allows valuable water-soluble biopolymers-such as beta-glucan, a dietary fibre found in oats-to be packaged and transported in dry form. A second step allows researchers to impregnate these biopolymers with health-benefiting bioactives, like antioxidants, for use in food, natural health products, cosmetics and even personal care products.

"I am a scientist, and when it comes to the legal and business aspects in terms of patenting and signing various agreements, I rely on the expertise of TEC Edmonton," said Temelli. "They were instrumental in the commercialization of our technology and throughout the licensing agreement with Ceapro."

In the decade since TEC Edmonton was formed, 96 of its spinoff companies are still in existence, a total that places it among the top business incubators in the world. U of A president David Turpin said these success stories help the university in its mission.

"We understand to serve the public good we have to take research one step further," he said. "Leading research needs to also inspire innovative technologies, it needs to launch new business, inform evidence-based policy, drive cleaner energy practices and build healthier communities."

Other patent award recipients

Clover Bench and Al Schaefer (Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences)

Apparatus and method of using infrared thermography and behaviour information of identification of biologically important states in animals

Robert Campbell and Jed Harrison (Science)

Optogenetic probes for measuring membrane potential

David Evans (Medicine & Dentistry)

Oncolytic viruses and methods for treating neoplastic disorders

Gino Fallone (Medicine & Dentistry)

Magnetic assembly and method for defining a magnetic field for an imaging volume

Mario Feldman (Science)

Methods and systems for O-glycosylating proteins

Michael Houghton, Lorne Tyrrell and Abdolamir Landi (Medicine & Dentistry)

Methods and compositions for diagnosis of inflammatory liver disease

David Mitlin (Engineering)

Carbon nanosheets

Walied Moussa (Engineering)

Piezoresistive load sensor

Feral Temelli (Agricultural, Life, and Environmental Sciences)

Supercritical fluid treatment of high molecular weight biopolymers

Robert Wolkow (Science)

Method for quantum computation by perturbing dangling bond electronic states

Spinoff companies

mmHG Inc.

Based on research by Raj Padwal, Peter Wood and Jennifer Ringrose in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, mmHG Inc. developed a cuff-based, portable blood pressure monitoring system that transmits data directly to a server.

PFM Scheduling Services

PFM Scheduling Services created a software suite that automates schedule management and production while assessing compliance with all required parameters. The technology is based on research by Dale Schuurmans and Czaba Szepesvari from the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, and James Neufeld and Martha White from the U of A's Faculty of Science.

VerteTrack Inc.

Based on research by Greg Kawchuk from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, VerteTrack developed a medical device that provides a clinically validated measure of spine stiffness and mirrors self-reported measures of low back disability.

WiDyne Technologies Inc.

Based on technology for the transfer of energy through a single wire from Pedram Mousavi, Adam Maunder and Telnaz Zarifi of the Faculty of Engineering, WiDyne is now exploring innovative methods to deliver electricity to consumers in their homes.