Kevin Englehart’s research is changing lives, one person at a time. A professor of electrical and computer engineering and the associate director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Englehart and his team create “myoelectric” artificial arms and hands for amputees and those born with limb deficiencies.
Clients have ranged in age from four months to 72 years, and each device is custom fitted. The institute has a regular clientele of about 120 people in a “living clinic” environment that combines UNB students and faculty with community and industry partners.
And yes, Englehart has heard the knock against Canadian companies: They aren’t competitive and lag in every measure with regard to research and development. He admits it’s not an unfair statement. “But in the last five to 10 years,” he says, “a lot of people have been trying to change that situation.”
One way is to encourage companies to partner with universities. “Developing such industry partnerships is challenging,” admits Englehart. In his case, the economics of artificial limbs represent a small market, he says. Pushing the technology envelope is also difficult and expensive, which means partnering with those who can absorb the R&D costs. “For years we did a lot of research that contributed to a body of knowledge but didn’t really approach a commercially ready product,” say Englehart. “There was no big breakthrough to motivate a company to do clinical trials to bring it to market.” However, considerable improvements in prosthetics and key partnerships with, for example, the renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have enabled the budding commercialization of this technology.
At UNB, partnering with industry falls under the rubric of the Office of Research Services (ORS); it represents what Englehart describes as a fundamental paradigm shift that occurred about a decade ago on the Fredericton campus. “It began with Greg Kealey, UNB’s vice-president of research, who changed the way commercial research was done at UNB,” says Englehart. “He essentially rebuilt that office. Today there are people here that specialize in intellectual property and individuals dedicated to the health care and government sectors. These people are very knowledgeable and, as a researcher, they have paved the way for me.”
Read the full story in this month’s Progress magazine