Western backs biomedical innovations for remote and low-resource communities

Western University's Frugal Biomedical Innovations (FBI) Program has launched 15 Catalyst Grants to support innovations designed to perform diagnostic or therapeutic functions while minimizing costs of operation, maintenance and the need for specialist personnel in constrained environments.
Margaret Mutumba, FBI program director explained, “Through generous support from Western’s Strategic Priorities Fund, the catalyst grants will provide funding to Western investigators and their partners in Canada, Middle East (Gaza) and Sub-Saharan Africa to co-create, develop, test and advance medical innovations that meet patients’ needs in remote and low resource communities.”  

Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice-president (academic) at Western, lauded the project for its close alignment with the University’s sustainability goals  Towards Western at 150 , claiming it “has already played a significant role in advancing the Western strategic goals and commitments.”  

“Sincere congratulations to everyone who received a grant today, your work is helping us to address one of the most pressing issues we are facing related to social inequity and global health,” shared Strzelczyk.  

She added, “This imperative of finding innovative solutions through global collaboration is a central theme in our recently launched global engagement plan called Western in the World and it outlines the necessary and important strategies to take in the next several years to collaborate and share our expertise on the world stage and reciprocally learning from partners across the globe while cultivating also a more diverse campus community and in many ways, your project fulfills this to the tee.”  

Associate Professor Ana Luisa Trejos (centre), collaborates with Parisa Daemi, post doctoral
associate (left) and Olusoji Ogunbode, doctoral student (right) in evaluating a previous
prototype on which the new frugal design will be based. (Jacob Arts photo)

Ana Luisa Trejos, associate professor, department of electrical and computer engineering, is leading a project to create a wearable system for Parkinson’s disease monitoring.

Around the world, more than 10 million people are living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and these individuals have different needs depending on the severity of their disease. This is why Trejos and the team at the WearMELab , in collaboration with Kwara State University in Nigeria, are developing a low-cost system to track and monitor PD symptoms that adapt to the specific needs of the user.

“Through this catalyst grant, we are initiating a collaboration with under-resourced countries in Africa, starting with Nigeria. This collaboration allows us to co-create a design solution that is specifically aimed at supporting the health of people living in remote and low-resource communities,” said Trejos, who is also a Tier-2 Canada Research Chair in Wearable Mechatronics.

“This catalyst program has been essential for us to start this collaboration, as the FBI program officers have the expertise required to support us researchers to create these partnerships properly.”

Western Engineering Professor Joshua Pearce is leading three projects, including an Open-Source Light Therapy Box Calibration System. “ An unnecessary loss of human life is caused by jaundice – responsible for 15 per cent of infant deaths in the developing world,” said Pearce. “This can be stopped with phototherapy, but commercial systems are expensive and thus not nearly as available as they should be in low resource settings.”

Free Appropriate Sustainability Technology (FAST) Research Group researcher, Joshua Givans,
tests the spectral response of a Kenyatta University designed light therapy box as part of a
project to develop an Open-Source Light Therapy Box Calibration System. (Jacob Arts photo)

Pearce’s partners at Kenyatta University have developed a low-cost light therapy box, but to use it clinically, it must be calibrated. If there is any hope that it will be used widely, this must be done inexpensively. The team will co-create an open-source phototherapy sensor device to achieve the required calibration.

“The Catalyst program is extremely important for my work to drive the development of open source low-cost medical technologies in three areas: digitally replicable surgical fracture tables , solar-powered augmented ambulances to provide power for oxygen generation and light therapy calibration equipment,” shared Pearce.

“The proprietary methods of medical technology development are both slow and result in costs that are inaccessible for the poor and ethically unacceptable number of people in the developing world,” said Pearce.  

“We know from the software industry that open-source development is faster and results in technically superior products. All of the work that my  Free Appropriate Sustainability Technology (FAST) Research Group  does is made with free and open-source licenses so that any company or individual anywhere in the world can replicate, make, adapt and sell free of any licensing restrictions.”  

The FBI Program is a multi-disciplinary initiative established to facilitate the co-design, development and deployment of innovative medical technologies that improve healthcare access for patients in remote locales in Canada and under-resourced communities in Africa.

It harnesses the principles of “frugal innovation” to accelerate research and education focused on frugal biomedical innovations that serve communities that need it most.

Catalyst Grant Award Recipients







Proposal Title




Maria Drangova


Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry


Low-cost material testing system for biomedical engineering educational programs


Two institutions within Africa including Drs. Kenneth Iloka and June Madete at Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya) and Dr. Robert Ssekitoleko at Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda)


Jennifer Guthrie


Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry


Innovative Technology for Rapid TB Antimicrobial Resistance Detection


Melissa Richard-Greenblatt, Public Health Ontario, Microbiology and Laboratory Science; Idowu Olawoye, Western University, Microbiology & Immunology; Warren Chan, University of Toronto, Institute of Biomedical Engineering; Abimbola Bowale Infectious Disease Hospital, Nigeria; Inosters Nzuki Lagos State Biobank, Nigeria


James Lacefield




Smart Toothbrush and Tele-Dentistry System to Promote Oral Health in Kenya


Abbas Jessani, Western U./Schulich Dentistry;  Noha Gomaa, Western University/Schulich Dentistry;  Regina Mutave, University of Nairobi, Kenya;  Nicole Haggerty, Western University/Ivey Business/Canada


Emily Lalone




TRU-VU Wrist Positioning Tool for Improved Wrist Radiography


Maxwell Campbell, Western University/ Mechanical & Materials; Jennifer Villeneuve, Western University/ Mechanical & Materials; Jamie Kueneman, Fanshawe College/Medical Radiation Technology; John Henry, Fanshawe College/Medical Radiation Technology; Greg Garvin, Western/ Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry; Glenn Shurmans, St. Joseph’s Health Care London; Joy MacDermid, Western University/Faculty of Health Science


David Holdsworth


Surgery & Medical Biophysics


Low-cost x-ray quality assurance system for low-resource settings


Ian Cunningham, Western University Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

William Wasswa, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda


Joshua Pearce


Electrical & Computer Engineering


Open-Source Light Therapy Box Calibration System


Ken Iloka, Kenyatta University, Kenya;  June Madete, Kenyatta University, Kenya;  Godwin Kiplimo Kenyatta University, Kenya;  Apoorv Kulkarni, Western University, Canada; 

Maryam Mottaghi, Western University, Canada;  Joshua Givans, Western University, Canada






Open-source Surgical Fracture Table: Uganda Replication


Julius Mugaga, Makerere University, Uganda;  Robert Ssekitoleko, Makerere University, Uganda;  Rebecca Kaaya, Makerere University, Uganda;  Bow Jennifer, Jennifer Bow MD PLLC.;  Wilson Jennifer, Glia, Canada;  Morgan Woods, Western University, Canada;  Ali Sadat, Western University, Canada






Design and Development Of Affordable Solar Electrical and Power Supply Systems for Portable Oxygen Concentrator to Integrate with Ambulances and Low Power Settings Facilities


Amare Kassaw Yimer Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia;  Fasil Tariku Bahir Dar University,  Ethiopia;  Yohannes Tamiru, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia;  Md Motakabbir Rahman, Western University, Canada;  Koami Hayibo, Western University, Canada


Mamadou Diop


Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry


Wearable neonatal cerebral oximeter for low resource settings


Moctar Faye UCAD, Senegal;  Arame Boye UCAD, Senegal;  David Holdsworth, Western University, Canada


Ana Luisa Trejos


Electrical & Computer Engineering


A wearable system for Parkinson’s disease monitoring


Adegbenro S. Ajani, Kwara State University, Nigeria;  Parisa Daemi, Western University;  Lorie Donelle, University of South Carolina, USA;  Mary Jenkins, Western University;  Michael Naish, Western University, London;  Olusoji Ogunbode, Western University


Michael Rieder




Development of a Non-invasive System to Count and Characterize Blood Cells


Ehshan Kamrani CellSees, Canada;  Alejandro Lazo-Langer, Western University;  Abdelbaset Elzagallaai, Robarts Research Institute;  Awatif Abuzgaia, Robarts Research  Institute;  Blanca Del Pozzo-Magana, Western;  Cissy Kityo Mutuluuza, Joint Clinical  Research Centre, Uganda;  Benson Juma, Joint Clinical Research


Ian Cunningham


Medical Biophysics


High-Quality Fourier Microscope for Point-of-Care Malaria Diagnoses


David Holdsworth, Western University;  William Wasswa, Mbarara University, Uganda;  Justin Yang, Western University


Noha Gomaa




Towards Sustainable Dentistry: A Non-invasive, Low-Cost, Rapid Screening Test for Oral Inflammation and Periodontal Disease


Michael Glogauer, University of Toronto;  Ahmed Abbas, Western University;  Diana Buhaisi, Western University


Tarek Loubani




Validation of a high-quality low-cost (frugally designed) open-source electrocardiograph


Melanie Columbus Glia, Inc, Ontario,  Canada;  Hisham Shokr, Western University;  Doruntina Yakoub, Western University






Design and Development of Assistive Devices for Developing Countries: Using 3D-printed hands and legs to improve quality of life for disabled persons in Ethiopia


Amare Kassaw Yimer Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia;  Metmiku Yohannes, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia;  Yibeltal Luelekal, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia