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Research internships key to high-tech Etobicoke business

In 1999, my grandfather had some health issues. He was admitted to the hospital and underwent an angioplasty. After he recovered, he was discharged, seemingly fine. He was home shortly later, lying in bed, when he had a heart attack. No one knew.

I’m now working for Myant, an Etobicoke-based company that could have saved his life. We develop smart textiles that put sensor and stimulation capabilities into fabrics. Sheets and garments can detect changes in the human body and send signals to a device. Examples include a wearable defibrillator for patients at risk of sudden cardiac arrest, machine-washable and luminescent clothing for outdoor activities, and fabrics that sense our body’s data and respond with targeted therapy or personalized guidance.

The provincial government has declared Ontario open for business and recently announced that they want to reduce red tape that hinders investment and jobs. In our new area of Textile Computing, accessing high-quality talent is critical to our technology development and manufacturing capabilities. Research internships — many laudably supported by the Government of Ontario — have been an essential part of our ability to bring on the right people and succeed in our business.

Our work requires a high degree of specialization. To develop and commercialize our products, we need PhDs with the latest expertise in physiology, biomedical and electrical engineering, computer science and other fields.

Through Mitacs — an organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada — we’ve been able to find and access talent in an affordable way. We bring on experts to support research and development, and we’ve already hired one into a permanent position.

Having a streamlined process is very important for a start-up like ours, where time is at a premium. The Mitacs model works well for us because one major application supports an ongoing project, and we can add new interns as we go. As the R&D director, I spend a lot of time writing funding proposals, so any opportunity to streamline work is a win for me.

Research keeps us at the forefront of our field. Competitors are chomping at our heels, but right now they tend to make standalone products. By contrast, we make our own materials, synthesize technology into the textiles and control the entire platform and process. We provide an end-to-end Textile Computing supply chain through 80,000 square feet of advanced manufacturing capacity.

In a start-up, every dollar counts, and we only get one shot at this. Our goal is to functionalize any piece of cloth and textile — so that your bed cover, your car seat, your shirt or your carpet could give you feedback that can monitor and might save your life. Although data has been used to predict issues in equipment, such as our cars warning us if something is wrong, we haven’t had anything like that for our bodies. Textiles that react when our breathing gets shallow or blood flow isn’t reaching our lower extremities can identify issues in their early stages and then improve our health and well-being.

Partnerships support this work as well. For instance, in collaboration with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and Mitacs, we’ve been developing garments for recovering motor function and muscle tone in the stroke and spinal cord injury populations.

Traditionally, functional electric stimulation (FES) has been a tedious process, involving a bulky controller and a mess of wires. With our sleeve or shirt, we can help these individuals regain, strengthen and improve their upper limb motor function while at the same time allowing for in-home therapy access and reducing the burden on our healthcare system.

We love what we do at Myant and believe we can change the world. With continued support for internships and processes that support start-up businesses like ours, we can see our vision unfold — right here in Ontario.

Milad Alizadeh-Meghrazi is the director of research and development at Toronto-based Myant, a company that is reinventing the way humans interact in the digital age through smart textiles.