When it comes to applied research, targeted innovation, and commercial collaborations, Université de Moncton is top of the class
Taking the lead in global biomedical research and medicine
A one-of-a-kind project is taking form at the Université de Moncton with the construction of the $27-million New Brunswick Centre for Precision Medicine. Funded by the federal and provincial governments, the university and other partners, the centre will focus on new personalized options in diagnosis and treatment resulting in more precise and earlier diagnoses and more targeted treatments specific to the patients’ disease characteristics. The research centre will be a place for trials, teaching, and discoveries.
“The establishment of this centre positions the Université de Moncton as a global player and partner in the world of health research and innovation,” says biochemist Dr. Marc Surette. “Students, professors, and researchers will benefit from the ultra-modern facilities which will be used for some of the most advanced research work in the country. The spinoffs will be significant scientifically and socioeconomically, as well.”
As the province’s first transdisciplinary research centre in a clinical environment, the new facility will bring together the expertise of a number of New Brunswick’s research centres specializing in biomedical research, genetic sequencing and population health.
To bring this project to fruition, the Université de Moncton is relying on the close collaboration of partners such as the Centre de formation médicale du Nouveau-Brunswick, Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, Atlantic Cancer Research Institute, and the Vitalité Health Network.
The centre’s laboratories and work spaces come together as one single mega research area to create an interactive and collaborative cluster. It will also offer space for the incubation of new businesses.
Innovative lab for university research and student learning
In life, we all come to the point in our old age when big decisions about where we are going to live come to the fore, and it is not easy. Where you live can make a big impact on your health and wellbeing, and most seniors want to remain in their own home. With the construction of the new Shannex Faubourg du Mascaret retirement living complex on the university’s Moncton campus, a new alternative has emerged for up to 350 seniors and the people who study them.
“When I heard there were going to be buildings for independent seniors, assisted living and nursing care together, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for us as researchers and professors,” said population-aging professor Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard. “Our students will be able to gain experiential learning at all levels of senior living, not just at nursing homes.”
Once the facility is in full operation, and the university’s teaching and research programs ramp up, Dr. Dupuis-Blanchard sees the potential for students and researchers in multiple fields to work together, especially when it involves care for the same person.
“For example, where a nursing professor might be looking to place five students, another in social work may have three or four,” Dr. Dupuis- Blanchard says, “so let’s put them together and make it a cooperative experience.”
While the new facility presents a living lab for university research and student learning, the benefits of being on campus are plentiful for the residents as well.
“Seniors who are well and able to be on campus have so much to enjoy just being here,” says Dr. Dupuis- Blanchard. “They can attend classes, go to live performances and the art gallery or simply benefit from the grounds without going very far.”
Today, there are 65 nursing homes in New Brunswick, in both rural and urban areas. In time, Dr. Dupuis-Blanchard aims to explore how services offered at assisted living and nursing homes can be extended to seniors still managing to live at home, and the impact it makes on their ability to age in place.
Winning partnership in computer science technology
If you have seen the science fiction movie The Minority Report, you already have a sense of how far facial recognition can go to personalize a shopping experience from the second you walk in the door. Today with new digital cameras and artificial intelligence, Dr. Eric Hervet of the Université de Moncton is teaching computers how to do it.
“Part of the technology for example that we are developing in combination with Elumicate Inc., a local digital technology company, involves imaging software for cameras which detect various pedestrian classifications such as gender, height, age, size and have commercial applications,” says Dr. Hervet.
Known to the industry as machine learning, the technology, just like students, has to be taught what to do first. It starts by developing the system’s neural network, in most cases, showing millions of photographs of the objects you want it to learn to identify. Once the machine learns all of the variations, algorithms can detect, understand and take some form of action in milliseconds.
“Ten years ago, it would have taken months if not years to teach a computer this method but now it takes only a few days. The biggest challenge is exact pre-labeling of what the images depict, an impossible task for a small group of people,” says Dr. Hervet. “With the Internet, there are now billions of images available, and if the labeling is insufficient, we can crowd source by uploading a database and paying people all over the world to label a couple of hundred photographs for a few cents a piece.”
Designing smart systems is becoming more and more challenging but achievable. Increasing CPU speed and computing power results in higher energy consumption and high heat dissipation. To handle data speed and the required current intensity, each link on the printed board circuits (PCB) has to be sketched according to specific rules for the design. Each functionality embedded on the system has its own requirements and challenges. Power supply design and implementation can take many hours of meticulous work and sophisticated techniques enabling the production of an intelligent PCB.
Depending on the use of each smart system, connections and hardware interfaces like USB-2, USB-3 and HDMI may be required. Keeping a PCB small and cool requires extra knowledge and expertise for an efficient design. Dr. Mohsen Ghribi and Dr. Yassine Bouslimani, both professors in the electrical engineering department, are leading another team in partnership with Elumicate Inc. to design smart systems and carrier boards that work with their existing systems.
Using deep learning to create viable financial business opportunities is what it’s all about, and it seems just a matter of time before liking your favourite store on Facebook leads to a camera detecting who you are and greeting you with goods as you walk in the door.
Innovative tools efficiently identify harvestable stands
When looking at the diversity of the New Brunswick forest, it is hard to believe that hardwood was once considered a weed. Their gnarly growth patterns are a mess to process compared to their straightstemmed softwood sisters. But according to Dr. Michel Soucy at the university’s Edmundston campus, hardwood is making a comeback, and he’s working on the technology needed for its market to grow.
“Hardwoods are increasing in value in the market and are now just as important as softwood for things like cabinets, furniture, flooring, and stove pellets,” says Dr. Soucy. “We have two mills in the province using hardwood to produce viscose for clothing.”
The biggest challenge facing hardwood harvesting is tree selection. In the past, foresters would walk through the woods and manually assess and mark trees. Today, Dr. Soucy and his colleagues are using satellite and drone imaging systems to identify harvestable stands of trees based on topography, soil type, tree height, and most importantly, ecological sensitivity.
“The biggest hurdle the industry needs to overcome is its lagging technology adoption, mostly due to the absence of cell phone coverage in the woods,” says Dr. Soucy. “There are smartphone apps that can help a forester manage everything from how a stand of hardwood trees should be cut, to where the required equipment is to do it.”
“Yes, some people do not know the new technology and are not used to change, but there is an emerging group who are all about technology and fearless with it,” Dr. Soucy says.
With Dr. Soucy’s work, forestry graduates can forget about heading into the woods with ax and chainsaw in hand; they are already using the most valuable tool, their smart phone.
Developing bioactive materials that trigger the formation of living tissue
Putting broken bones back together after an accident or corrective surgery is a complex operation that often needs titanium rods and screws to keep everything together. Recovery time can be long and painful, and you’re likely to set off every airport metal detector for the rest of your life. But that’s all about to change with engineered composite materials under development at the Université de Moncton’s Shippagan campus that bond bones, promote healing, and when finished, are absorbed by the body.
“A lot of work has been done in tissue engineering in the past 10 years, for regenerating almost every tissue, including organs,” says research team leader Dr. Yahia Djaoued. “Our research focuses on biomaterials that bond tissues together. Synthetic polymers can do this, but they’re not biodegradable. The natural sources we use are safer, non-toxic and show much better bioactivity.”
The research began after observing the structure of real bone and realizing that it is a composite material itself, composed of multiple compounds and collagen that produce flexibility and toughness.
The research team, under the direction of Drs. Marie-Hélène Thibault and Yahia Djaoued, is developing bioactive materials that trigger the formation of living tissue. Scientifically called scaffolds, the surface of the material allows cells to attach, proliferate and differentiate.
Dr. Djaoued’s research also focuses on another type of infrastructure: our nation’s roads, bridges, and buildings. Many of these are old and will require attention and modernization on an ongoing basis. Dr. Djaoued’s team, in partnership with regional industry, is working on composite materials that will improve the longevity and cost-effectiveness of these large-scale projects. Whether it’s to fill a gap between bones or our nation’s roadways, the University’s Shippagan campus continues to position itself as an innovator in composites to fix many of the problems we face just getting around.
Unique experiential entrepreneurship learning program
If you are in business and you get a call from a student about a business idea they are developing through the university’s CARDE Entrepreneurship Centre, pay attention. You’re about to get more than a few simple questions garnered from a textbook. For students at the CARDE, you can rest assured that there is an entire team of profes-sional support behind them. The centre helps students develop and launch businesses through experiential learning with staff, faculty and members of the business community through a variety of means, including the Patrick Albert Mentorship Program.
“We are contributing to the next generation of entrepreneurs in our region, but our objective is more than creating start-ups, it is also about preparing our students, whether they launch a business or not, to work in an SME environment,” says Pauline Roy, director of the centre. “We can also bring businesses with project needs together with students and faculty to provide concrete, real-world experience, which has so much value for the students.” Roy says that the CARDE’s support extends beyond current students, providing the same kind of support to alumni as well.
The Patrick Albert Mentorship Program starts with the basics, helping student participants answer the simple question “Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?” The centre’s staff and its mentorship network then come into play and create an opportunity for the student to discover whether or not entrepre-neurship is for them. From nurses to engineers and art students, the centre will find a mentor who can help them find their way, and not necessarily one from their chosen profession since the basics of entre-preneurship are relatively the same for every industry.
One of those mentors is Luc Jalbert, founder of Prelam, maker of the toilet odour eliminator “Just A Drop,” who is also one of the CARDE’s entrepreneurs-in-residence. With 28 trips to China so far, a highly developed supply chain, and distri-bution at retail titans like Walmart, Jalbert has both the entrepreneurial drive and street smarts to set a student on the path that is right for them.
“Anyone can have a great idea, but you’ve got to know where you are going. Does it makes sense, and can it make money? Anyone can have a dream, but it does not always make sense,” says Jalbert. “I try to teach them that you should go work for someone so you can learn. Go work for the competition. You will be of better service and more passionate, and you are going to learn.”
Professors are a vital resource for the CARDE as well, especially the business administration faculty, which can offer tools, guidance and in some cases assistance to the budding entrepreneur.
“They can help with business plan, market research, and with some professors, have their students work on the CARDE mentee’s project,” says Roy. “Depending on the student’s needs, we can also connect them with some of the engineering, computer science or sciences researchers.”
Ultimately, the success of the centre’s programs depends on the collaboration of students, faculty and the business community. Whether it is a student looking for help developing an entrepreneurial idea or a company looking for students to complete some project work, CARDE’s raison d’être is about bringing the right people together at the right time to bolster entrepreneurship as a career choice in the region.
For more information about ongoing research initiatives or to find out how Université de Moncton can help your company/organization achieve its R&D goals: http://www.umoncton.ca/fesr/