New laser equipment boosts Canadian medical technology development

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The new equipment will enable the fabrication of everything from medical implants to lab-on-a-chip technology, (Image: Shutterstock/Denis Simonov)

Medical device developers in Western Canada now have access to $1.5 million in new laser-based microfabrication equipment at Smart Technology (ST) Innovations, the non-profit business arm of the University of Alberta’s Sensory Motor Adaptive Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) Network.

The new equipment – known as a laser microfabrication suite – will allow inventors to design and test prototypes for everything from medical implants to lab-on-a-chip technology in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional methods. It is the only one of its kind in Western Canada and includes a femtosecond laser for ultrafine cuts, an optical profiler to provide high-resolution 3D images of what has just been created, and a fibre laser micro-welder to connect small pieces together.

‘This new equipment allows us to expand our capabilities and the services that we provide, not only to university entrepreneurs but to local industry in Alberta and across Western Canada to build the health technology sector of our country,’ said Vivian Mushahwar, professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and director of the SMART Network and ST Innovations. ‘It augments the other lasers and equipment that we have in the SMART Network. It completes the package and makes it so fabulous, in that it’s a one-stop shop for industry partners to come in, go from one piece of equipment to the next, and develop their prototypes in a streamlined fashion.’

The initiative aligns with the Western Economic Diversification Canada’s (WD’s) focus on supporting the commercialisation of western Canadian technologies and applications for the global market, as well as the growth of innovative early-stage companies in Alberta. It was because of this that it provided the funding for the new laser microfabrication suite. 

‘Alberta’s health and medical technology sector represents a major opportunity for economic growth and high quality jobs,’ said Jim Carr, Minister and Special Representative for Canada’s Prairies region. ‘This investment is about enabling even more small- and medium-sized technology companies to push the boundaries of product development and commercialisation from more effective medical treatments to better health monitoring, all with the potential to improve the quality of life for Canadians.’

Hooman Hosseinkhannazer, vice-president of business development for MEMS and photonic product manufacturer Norcada, said the company is pleased to gain access to the innovative new technology through ST Innovations and the University of Alberta. The Edmonton-based company specialises in nano, quantum and biopharmaceutical markets. 

‘We are always interested in collaborating with our hometown research institutes and gaining access to innovative technology that can better our product offerings,’ he said. ‘The prototyping, fabrication and quality-control equipment purchased under this project is going to directly change some of our tooling for biosensor technology, genomics and particle accelerator technologies.’

Other clients of ST Innovations include health-care company Health Gauge, medical device manufacturer StarFish Medical, and the United States Department of Defense, which is testing Mushahwar’s micro implants that stimulate the spinal cord to restore movement following a severe injury.

‘We help entrepreneurs take their innovations and develop them in a meaningful way from concept to validation with a team approach that helps them position their innovation in the best way to be picked up by the marketplace,’ Mushahwar explained. ‘We are wholly focused on precision health technology, building intelligence into the devices to make them adaptive and predictive and able to work with their users in a very intuitive way.’

Students will also have access to the laser microfabrication suite as part of the university’s new NSERC SMART CREATE interdisciplinary programme to train employment-ready graduates.

‘Now they can bring the great skills that they learn here and take them to the companies that they work with as interns,’ Mushahwar concluded.







Laser depaneling systems such as this achieve higher output by higher effective cutting speed and cutting quality. (Image: LPKF)

13 December 2021