Centennial professor’s dedication led to WIMTACH project innovation

When Brendan Chapman walked into an acupuncture office two years ago, he had no idea that it would be the catalyst for a new innovation.

At that time, Brendan booked an appointment with an acupuncturist named Arla. After introducing herself and conversing with him, she explained that she had an applied research idea, but was unsure about how to carry it out. It was a welcome surprise with perfect timing. Brendan was (and still is) a Centennial College professor in the Biomedical Engineering Technology department and he was working with WIMTACH. He explained the opportunity to Arla:

“She mentioned she had an idea to create a pain relief device, and I had some grants through the Applied Research and Innovation Centre (ARIC) and we have this department at Centennial [College] called WIMTACH, which is specifically geared towards developing products…this is where WIMTACH came in because they provided the expertise to help her build this project and allow her thoughts to become a reality.”

Among many other challenges, funding, research and consultation challenges often serve as barriers for business owners to even begin to explore a new business direction. For Arla, the challenge was starting her business to support the idea. Once she successfully addressed that challenge, “this is where WIMTACH came in because they provided the expertise to help her build this project and allow her thoughts to become a reality,” explained Brendan.

After several strategic meetings and consultation, AcuMade, the new business Arla founded, became an industry partner of WIMTACH’s. From here, a project was initiated. The technical challenge of the first project was to identify which components and expertise were necessary to build the pain relief device. Alongside a team of students and WIMTACH Research Associates, Brendan helped create schematics for the device. A second project was then approved by WIMTACH because the schematics showed innovation and promise to disrupt the digital health and wellness industry. This time, the challenge was to create a proof of concept device. 

On both projects Brendan was the Principal Investigator, despite being a full-time professor. Usually, full-time professors who partake in applied research projects with WIMTACH receive a course-release, which relieves professors from teaching for the duration of an applied research project. Brendan chose to donate his time in-kind because the hard work was another opportunity for him to learn and grow in his professional career.

“Doing these research projects provides an opportunity for me to discover something new. Regardless of which path you go down, you’re always going to learn something new. You’re doing something different here. That’s what interests me. I was in school for 11-12 years [studying biomedical engineering and neuroscience] and I went right into teaching. I’ve been in school my whole life. I’ve always loved learning and learning something new and research has provided me the opportunity to do that.”

Brendan continues to use that opportunity, still as the Principal Investigator and a full-time professor, as Acumade is currently on its third project with WIMTACH: to develop a non-invasive device that would provide longer lasting pain relief than current marketed devices through a combination of electrostimulation and vibration. This project requires a wide array of expertise, so Brendan hired several students: Dylan and Mehol as Mechanical Engineers, Abby as the Electrical Engineer and Richard in the biomedical program, who is the main researcher of the project. The project began in January 2019 and continued into the pandemic. Since so much work was already completed beforehand, the pandemic didn’t have as big of an impact on the project schedule.

“A lot of the work has been designing schematics for the electrical and PCB, which can all be done with software computers so it hasn’t slowed things down too much, which is nice.”

However, it did impact the course material Brendan has been teaching, in a good way. Since the College is closed, the Acumade project has served as a way to provide hands-on and experiential learning to his students.

“The [Acumade] project has helped create a knowledge base that I can rely on. We’ve got a lot of in-depth material here and I teach a course called Biomed Sales and Service. What we’re teaching in the course is literally what we’re doing in WIMTACH. So, we go through product development, product design, marketing issues, intellectual property issues etc. So these are all real-life things that I’m doing through WIMTACH that I can bring into the classroom and say, “Look at what we’re doing.” It’s not just this “potential company that is doing this”…it’s here at Centennial College; we’re working at these partners and doing exactly what we’re doing in class. It’s been a great bridge between the theoretical and the reality.”

For more about WIMTACH’s services and expertise, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/services/

To learn more about the WIMTACH team of experts, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/team/

WIMTACH proudly recognizes funding to support this work from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Jun, 27, 2020