Research partnership between the uOttawa Faculty of Engineering and Tec de Monterrey opens door to discoveries in global health research

Faculty of Engineering
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Chemical and Biological Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Tecnologico de Monterrey
The Tecnológico de Monterrey University in Mexico
The University of Ottawa has joined forces with Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey through a joint seed grant program. This year, five joint research projects have been funded, each receiving $20,000.

The following projects show how new technology can make an impact on health care.

Detecting heart failure through enhanced biosensors 

Clinical devices used by medical practitioners and health-care professionals can help detect illness and possible health risks. However, each device has its limitations. Biosensors look for  biomarkers in the body to detect health risks or conditions, but current technologies are limited to the detection of only a few markers. In the case of heart failure, there can be many possible causes that may be missed.  

Professor Pierre Berini from the University of Ottawa is working with Dr. Israel De León, Dr. Gerardo de Jesús García-Rivas and PhD candidate Marcos Valero from Tec de Monterrey. As heart failure becomes a growing problem globally within aging populations, they’re creating new biosensors that are compact, complex and capable of better, real-time detection using nanoplasmonic biosensors, which are highly sensitive to changes in the environment. 

Since January 2022, Berini and his team at uOttawa have been working to fabricate the small-scale devices in the NanoFab facilities, while García-Rivas and De León do testing in partnership with patients and health-care professionals at Tec de Monterrey.  

This technology could change health care in remote areas and mean the difference between life and death for some. 

Prevention at the source 

Globally, osteoarthritis, which can result in serious pain in patients due to the progressive changes in the tissue of the affected joint including calcification of the cartilage, affects over 240 million people. There is no known cure, and the disease is difficult to study and treat because very little is known about its mechanisms of the disease. 

Professors Jean-Philippe St-Pierre and Fabio Variola from the University of Ottawa have joined efforts with research professors Marion Brunck and Gerardo García-Rivas at Tec de Monterrey to study the mechanisms of osteoarthritis and develop early treatment through in vitro testing.  

Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, help the body fight infections and foreign bacteria. Recent work in the field has proposed a potential link between these cells of the immune system and the development of osteoarthritis.  

The researchers are working to build an in vitro tissue model that can be used to study the mechanisms of osteoarthritis and investigate the roles of neutrophil cells. St-Pierre and his team hope to help develop a cure and facilitate more accurate pre-screening of potential drug candidates. 

Monitoring fad diets and energy production 

Professor Benoît Lessard and Professor Adam Shuhendler from the University of Ottawa are working with research professors Omar Lozano, Gerardo García and Noemí García of Tec de Monterrey to find new users for thin-film sensors.  

Diets such as the keto diet or intermittent fasting are used to either fully or partially restrict energy in the body, to activate the internal repair of damaged molecules by producing ketone bodies (KB). However, a high level of KB is not always positive. For example, it can aggravate epilepsy in children or signify uncontrolled diabetes.  For this reason, it is important to monitor KB levels, but current monitoring sensors can only detect ketone bodies one at a time. 

This project seeks to develop a practical, low-cost, highly sensitive sensor that can detect multiple ketone bodies at once. This could help control reversible tissue damage due to excessive ketone production within the body. 

The team has been manufacturing and fine tuning the thin-film sensors, a research specialty of Lessard and his team, at uOttawa, while the team at Tec de Monterrey is developing a mouse model to study the samples collected from intermittent fasting. 

Emerging partnerships 

The Faculty of Engineering strives to find unique, innovative collaboration opportunities with our partners and in the community. Through teaching, research and active engagement with our partners, we’re committed to investing in finding sustainable, high-impact solutions. If you’re interested in partnering with the Faculty, email Olga Golovachova.