Innovator: Dr. Crystal Sweeney

Fighting fire more safely

- June 25, 2024

Dr. Crystal Sweeney. (Nick Pearce photo)
Dr. Crystal Sweeney. (Nick Pearce photo)

Dr. Crystal Sweeney (PhD’19) is developing technology to help measure, and ultimately mitigate, carcinogen exposure for workers in high-risk environments.

Innovation: Analytical toxicologist Dr. Crystal Sweeney founded PureSpire Biomonitoring Technologies Inc., a startup that aims to produce solutions pivotal in mitigating risks related to occupational carcinogen exposure among firefighters.

PureSpire Biomonitoring Technologies Inc. aims to leverage advancements in biosensor technology to detect and track cancer-causing chemicals, including volatile organic compounds and “forever chemicals.”

Collaborating with Dr. John Frampton, a biomaterials expert, Dr. Sweeney is exploring the development of an adhesive patch for firefighters to wear against their skin that will monitor carcinogens in the body.

Foundation: Canadians are growing accustomed to the hazy skies, irritated eyes, and coughs induced by particles from distant fires. But what about those in the midst of the blaze? How severe is the impact for those actively fighting the fires?

Dr. Sweeney, who did both her PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship at Dalhousie, observed the rise in fires across North America with concern. Her focus honed in on the firefighters facing the toxic cocktail of carcinogens in their line of duty.

With the help of the Lab2Market program, Dr. Sweeney was able to interview more than 75 firefighters to do deep research into the firefighting field, allowing her to get more insight into how best to help them stay well.

Inspiration: Dr. Sweeney highlights that beyond forest fires, the combustion of modern materials elevates cancer risks for exposed individuals. Studies by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) establish a direct link between chemical exposure and increased cancer risk. Despite advanced gear and decontamination protocols, occupational cancer remains a significant threat to firefighters.


Why it matters: Dr. Sweeney’s efforts gained support from David Perez, a firefighter who successfully battled two rare occupational blood cancers and is currently in remission following an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Perez joined PureSpire’s founding team, driven by a shared commitment to mitigate cancer risks for firefighters.

PureSpire reengaged with Dal Innovates for the Lab2Market Launch program, accelerating their venture with funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Driven by the mission to enhance firefighter health and safety, PureSpire aims to bring their products to market swiftly. Their biosensor patch could provide crucial evidence linking workplace exposure to cancer diagnosis, offering firefighters a tool to reduce internal toxicant exposure before cancer develops.

This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Spring/Summer 2024 issue. Flip through the rest of the issue using the links below.


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