Collaboration centres – A collaborative approach to attaining greater impact for Canada

- Boucherville, Quebec

The University of Toronto partners with the National Research Council to create national innovation hub for microfluidics.

Recognizing that we can accomplish much more by working with others than on our own, the NRC embarked on a bold initiative in 2018‑19: to create collaboration centres with leading Canadian organizations in order to accelerate science excellence and technology development. All of these centres will have a "dedicated" physical location at the NRC , or on partner property, where researchers from both organizations will share access to specialized equipment, work side by side on collaborative projects, and provide training opportunities for young scientists. These centres, which are devoted to R&D activity in particular fields where Canada has the opportunity to develop internationally recognized expertise, are being designed specifically to:

  • amplify the impact of our larger science and engineering facility assets
  • encourage and facilitate enhanced collaboration with external partners
  • leverage sources of funding and expertise provided by our partners
  • train, and gain access to highly qualified personnel
  • contribute to discoveries and scientific advancement in fundamental research areas
  • develop intellectual property for the public good
  • translate state‑of‑the‑art science and technology into industrial and other beneficial applications
  • support regional clusters/ecosystems

The Centre for Research and Applications in Fluidic Technologies ( CRAFT ), co-located at the University of Toronto and NRC Boucherville, opened on November 26, 2018, is just one example.

The Centre of Microfluidic Systems, at the University of Toronto, and the NRC Biomedical Devices Laboratory, at the NRC 's Medical Devices Research Centre in Boucherville, are both highly complementary, nationally leading facilities for the fabrication of polymer-based microfluidic devices. Together, our active user base encompassed 200+ highly qualified personnel, 45+ academic/clinical research labs, and 25+ technology companies. Working collectively over the past decade, we had built up more than $20 million of infrastructure which allowed us to operate at the cutting edge of technology. We both recognized, however, that we were reaching the limits imposed by our existing infrastructure, processing capacity and spatial separation. Consequently, we agreed that we should combine forces to ensure that we could make a more effective Canadian contribution to this rapidly advancing technology area.

We designed CRAFT to enable the University of Toronto and NRC scientists to work "side by side" as a dynamic team to create a national science and technology platform and an industrial cluster that would develop and manufacture bio-microsystems with applications in key industrial and clinical areas of national priority. In this way, we are ensuring that Canada remains at the forefront of translating discoveries in biomedical micro-devices for diagnostics, organ-on-chip engineering, and bio-printing which will enable significant advancements in precision medicine and cell-based therapies to benefit the Canadian economy and the health of Canadians over the next 20 years.

More specifically, CRAFT will use advanced micro-nanofabrication technologies, artificial intelligence and bio-devices to solve global challenges. For example, CRAFT plans to develop inexpensive, rapid and portable deployable devices for global health and for use in remote Canadian communities facing challenges in accessing healthcare for latent tuberculosis, HIV and kidney disease treatments. Another goal is to use these technologies to tackle the never-ending threat of viral and nosocomial infections contributing to antimicrobial resistance ( AMR ), which is "one of the world's biggest issues threatening the very core of modern medicine".

The NRC committed up to $1.6M/year for 5 years to support the salary for 5 researchers and 3  technical officers, and operational funding (which the university can use to leverage collaborative research and development ( CRD ) grants, Canadian Institutes of Health Research ( CIHR ) etc.) to support the work being conducted at CRAFT . Those positions will cover a mix of researchers in biomedical, mechanical and nanofabrication engineering, materials chemistry and biomaterials, complemented by technology specialists in lithography, hot embossing and microinjection molding, bio-device packaging and certification at the NRC 's Medical Devices Research Centre in Boucherville.

Discoveries and advances at CRAFT will result in scientific publications, publically held patents, and the commercialization of advanced health technology, which will directly benefit clinicians and patients, reducing costs for the Canadian medical system and providing advanced care to those who need it. We will scale up the low technology readiness level research outputs from students, clinicians, and the NRC and university scientists that will make our Canadian medical devices and manufacturing industries more competitive internationally.

In addition to combining our existing infrastructures, we will collectively work to ensure complementarity going forward. Future NRC and University of Toronto capital acquisitions will ensure that gaps are addressed and that we collectively remain evergreen, to the best of our abilities, in leading-edge equipment. In fact, because microfluidics is so crucial to the development of gene and cell-based therapies, CRAFT will play a critical role in supporting the NRC 's recently announced Health Challenge Program, and will receive capital support to secure equipment which will, in conjunction with its and the NRC 's existing infrastructure, enable delivery of that program's objectives. This is yet another example of how the NRC is leveraging capabilities and infrastructure to better deliver results for Canadians.

We will also be working together to train highly qualified personnel who are keen to have careers, and entrepreneurship opportunities in Canada, in the emerging microfluidics field – a field in which applications in drug delivery and diagnostics is expected to contribute to market growth from US$ 2.9B today to as much as US$ 11B by the end of 2026.

The NRC and the University of Toronto are proud to be delivering to Canadians, in the Canadian way – i.e., by sharing resources, infrastructure, and talent.

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