Here come the medical tools of the future

Published: 25 July 2011

From bionanomachines to neuroengineering, new McGill programs train students to excel in scientific fields

Medical technology is advancing at an astonishing pace and McGill University has new programs to train scientists to build the amazing tools of the future to heal the diseases of today.

Bionanomachines come from living organisms. They are about 1/1000th of the diameter of a human hair, and are made up of DNA, RNA, protein, sugars, and/or fats. They are currently used to make everything from detergents to insulin, and are already able to take on tasks like cleaning arteries. In the future, as research advances, bionanomachines are likely to facilitate bone and corneal implants, and allow scientists to grow the skin needed for grafting, rather than having to take it from elsewhere on the body.

McGill will soon be able to offer students the first Canadian training program in the principles, design and applications of bionanotechnology. It will draw together world-class expertise in protein engineering, structural biology, bioinformatics and medical therapeutics from Canadian universities. Young scientists in the program will develop the multi-disciplinary skills essential for this new field through a range of specialized courses, symposia and institutional exchanges. They will also be trained in the management skills needed to foster a new generation of medical entrepreneurs.

McGill researchers have also developed a new program in neuroengineering designed to create new tools and techniques for repairing damage to the central nervous system. Injury to the central nervous system – whether due to an accident, a stroke or a disease – is extraordinarily difficult to repair. It affects thousands of Canadians each year, often leading to lifelong disability. The tools used to gather information and treat it are very specialized, ranging from nanomaterials to advanced imaging techniques. So it is especially important for the “tool-builders” and “tool-users” to communicate clearly and understand one another’s work.

McGill’s new neuroengineering training program brings together neuroscientists, chemistry researchers, physicists, biomedical engineers and electrical engineers to develop innovative techniques to both study and repair injuries to the central nervous system. A graduate of this training program will have developed a unique set of skills and be well-positioned to take on leadership roles in the biomedical devices industry, government regulatory directorates and academia.

Both of these new training programs exist thanks to funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program. It is a program designed to help science and engineering graduates add job skills to their academic expertise. “NSERC’s CREATE Program helps graduating students become highly sought-after professional researchers in the natural sciences and engineering, both in Canada and abroad,” said Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC. “The program not only helps improve the skill set of Canada’s next-generation of research talent, but it also helps to support their retention in the workforce.”

For more information on the NSERC CREATE grants –


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