Kids with asthma stand to benefit

New device is more sensitive and easier to use

- January 22, 2008

Geoffrey Maksym
Dr. Geoffrey Maksym (Danny Abriel Photo)
Dalhousie researchers and Montreal-based SCIREQ Scientific Respiratory Equipment Inc. aim to help asthma patients breathe easier.

Together they have invented a handheld device – called an ‘oscillation spirometer’ – that will give doctors a new sensitive tool to measure airway function. Dalhousie University and SCIREQ are forming a new Halifax-based company, Thoracic Medical Systems Inc. (Thorasys), to develop this and other medical devices for market.

This breakthrough device will aid doctors both in diagnosing asthma and in monitoring the effectiveness of asthma treatment. It will be particularly helpful in diagnosing asthma in children – an important advance as asthma most frequently emerges in childhood.

“It’s very difficult for children to perform traditional spirometry tests, which require them to blow as much air out of their lungs as they can in one second,” notes lead researcher Dr. Geoffrey Maksym, an associate professor in Dalhousie’ School of Biomedical Engineering. “Our device is easier for people to use, because it measures airway function while they are breathing normally.”

Atlantic Innovation Fund announcement

The Honourable Peter MacKay, minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), announced Monday that the Atlantic Innovation Fund will invest $28.8 million in funding for eight recipients in Nova Scotia.

The money includes $1.7 million for Dartmouth-based Acadian Seaplants Ltd., which will "cultivate seaweed biomass for human foods" and $2 million to commercialize the oscillation spirometer.

The latest recipients of the Atlantic Innovation Fund program show advances are being made at promoting East Coast inventiveness, says Minister MacKay.

"Results matter. In my view this is the best regional development agency in the country," he said.

Not only is it easier for patients, the oscillation spirometer provides much more information about the airways in the lungs than ordinary spirometers. “Unlike current spirometers, which take a single measurement, our device tracks changes in airway diameter over time,” says Maksym. “This indicates how reactive the airways are, so physicians can determine who has asthma and which patients have their asthma under control.”

Maksym has been working on the methods and technology behind the oscillation spirometer for more than four years, in collaboration with SCIREQ, his graduate students and Dr. Paul Hernandez, a QEII respirologist and associate professor at Dalhousie Medical School. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) has funded his work from the start, investing $450,000 so far. Springboard Atlantic, the Nova Scotia Lung Association and Dalhousie University’s Industry Liaison and Innovation Office have provided additional funds and support.

Dalhousie’s Industry Liaison and Innovation Office (ILI) plays a central role in the project, evaluating and protecting intellectual property, assisting with funding proposals, and guiding the project through the commercialization process.

“This is a prime example of research that matters,” says Dr. Ronald Layden, executive director of the ILI. “It combines all the elements we like to see: high-calibre research, great commercial potential, and a means of meeting an important medical need.” On top of this the new firm, Thorasys, will create high-tech jobs in Halifax and strengthen the region’s fledgling biomedical devices industry.

Specialists at the IWK Health Centre and QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, as well as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, will begin using the oscillation spirometer this year. Their feedback will provide valuable input to Thorasys as the company moves the device to market.

Maksym says it really all began in the 1990s, when he and Dr. Thomas Schuessler were graduate students together at McGill University’s Meakins-Christie Institute, a world-renowned centre for lung research. Maksym went on to become a professor, while Schuessler formed SCIREQ. The two stayed in contact and began working together on this project in 2004. Six students in Maksym’s lab have since worked with SCIREQ to develop the oscillation spirometer prototypes. Schuessler is taking on the role of president of Thorasys, while Maksym will be the company’s scientific advisor.

SEE VIDEO: Geoffrey Maksym demonstrates the oscillation spirometer and explains its benefits.

READ: From seaweed munchies to asthma-measuring device, Ottawa touts East Coast inventions by Canadian Press


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus