Discover more stories about Mitacs — and the game-changing innovations driven by students and postdocs.
Six years ago, Douglas Kondro designed a unique prosthetic for an abandoned rooster that had lost its toes to frostbite.
That would be a major life accomplishment for any 20-year-old.
But the University of Calgary PhD student in Biomedical Engineering in Graduate Studies, now 26, is receiving new acclaim, this time for his work scaling up (to one million microtissues at a time) an existing process that ultimately could reverse the effects of Type 1 diabetes, while potentially helping other areas of stem cell research.
He received 2019’s award for outstanding innovation from not-for-profit organization Mitacs, which promotes business and academia growth and innovation.
Kondro was drawn to engineering because it applies science in the real world, building solutions to biological challenges.
In his first PhD lab, he used prototyping equipment and his mechanical engineering background to develop the rooster prosthetic.
Kondro still has that company: “I’m contacted by people from around the world about making feet for everything from hawks to goats.”
But now, Kondro, a former elite athlete on the university’s cross-country and track and field teams (three-time CIS Academic All-Canadian), is turning his focus to tissue.
The existing Edmonton Protocol sees tissue taken from a donor pancreas and implanted in the liver of a Type I diabetes patient, helping produce insulin. However, after a few years, the patient normally has to return to outside insulin when the tissue dies. Kondro’s process creates more and longer-lasting cells, creating better outcomes.
Kondro hopes to finish his PhD this year, and is applying to study with a Japanese Nobel Prize-winning team in the field of stem cell research.
In the meantime, his stem cell innovation will start the regulatory process toward directly helping patients.
“I spend a lot of time sitting in a lab watching cells grow but I know this could have a huge impact on people’s lives. I love using technical expertise to build things that solve problems.”