Calgary medical start-up taps into research talent through Mitacs

Zephyr Sleep Technologies leverages Mitacs Accelerate to access University of Calgary expertise

Despite this, many patients who have problems with the quality of their sleep do not seek medical diagnosis, and when they do, diagnosis and initiating treatment can be an arduous process that is disruptive, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

Enter Zephyr Sleep Technologies. The Calgary-based medical start-up develops devices that help doctors guide patients towards the best treatment for breathing-related sleep disorders. Their primary focus has been obstructive sleep apnea, and providing a test that can accurately select patients for treatment with an oral appliance. Today, the efforts of their research and development team is aimed at the development of tools and techniques to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of a commonly misunderstood disorder called high upper-airway resistance (HUAR), a condition whose symptoms can be mistaken for sleep apnea.

However, it was the expertise of two Mitacs Accelerate interns from the University of Calgary that accelerated the launch of Zephyr’s products into the fledgling market of HUAR.

Early in the development of their HUAR tools, the company identified a need to tap into the expertise of a researcher with an understanding of acoustics and sound processing. Having been introduced to Mitacs’ programs through their local Business Development representative, the company was paired to Ali Zareian, a PhD student from the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Calgary.

Under supervision from Professor Qiao Sun, Ali worked closely with the Zephyr R&D team to establish the methods needed to develop a non-invasive device to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of HUAR in the home. His original internship was extended from 4 to 8 months, with Ali taking on additional responsibilities and working in tandem with another Mitacs intern as the project scope began to grow. Zephyr recognised the value of Ali’s expertise within their research team, and then hired him to continue to lead work on the project full time.

For Sabina Bruehlmann, Zephyr’s Director of Technology and Operations, the value of the collaboration was evident.

For a small company like us, Mitacs Accelerate has been a key part of tapping into specialized expertise. Since joining Zephyr, Ali has become a leader in our R&D team, and his research has contributed to products that Zephyr hopes will bring relief to many sufferers, and that will in essence double our target market.”

The company has seen such value from the program that they plan to take on another Mitacs Accelerate intern in the coming months, this time with Ali acting as the on-site supervisor. “For us, turning to Mitacs for this upcoming project was an easy decision,” says Bruehlmann. “Mitacs is focused on providing the help that companies need to continually innovate, and makes applying to this sort of research grant simple and quick. We know we’ll get access to the sort of expertise that is key to our company’s continued growth.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Alberta Innovates their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan forand Research Manitoba.

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