Safer drugs. Improved pharmaceutical research. Fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease. All these aspirations could become reality thanks to a small device the size of a postage stamp, its creator, Kyle Fricke, BSc’10, MSc’12, and the donors who have supported his research.
Currently a PhD student in Western’s Faculty of Engineering, Kyle is one of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of biomedical implants. He began developing his device to measure blood pressure and blood volume while still working on his master’s degree in Engineering Science in 2010.
Now, with just one year left until he completes his PhD in Electrical Engineering, Kyle says the implant is already having an impact. Although it’s not at a stage yet where it can be used in humans, it is currently being commercialized and has the potential to be used by pharmaceutical companies in their drug testing with the aim to make their products safer, he says.
“Long term – maybe 10-20 years from now – if we can develop devices small and safe enough to embed in humans, we will be able to monitor things like heart disease. We still have a long way to go but it’s very possible.”
Kyle was awarded the Charles F. Ruigrok Ontario Graduate Scholarship in Engineering from Western in 2014, which enabled him to concentrate fully on his research and publications. Under the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) program, a contribution of $5,000 from Western alumni, friends and private partners will leverage an additional $10,000 in government funds to fully support one $15,000 award. Kyle’s OGS award is one of 11 awards made possible by former graduate student, Charles Ruigrok, BESc’78, MEng’84, a former executive in the oil and gas industry in Calgary, AB.
In 2015, Kyle received a prestigious federal scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), something he says would not have happened without first receiving the OGS.
“The competition for funding is intense. If graduate students are funded properly they’re able to focus on their studies instead of whether they’ll be able to pay the bills that month,” he says. “By supporting students who are involved in research, you can get so many other benefits down the road.”
Having spent nearly 10 years now at Western as a student, researcher and teacher, Kyle says he’s proud of the projects being done on campus and that students will continue to have the same opportunities he had.
“At Western, I was encouraged to think on my own and to try new things. A high school teacher of mine was an engineer and I knew from then on that’s what I would be someday. The only question for me was what kind of engineering I would focus on. In your undergraduate years you have the opportunity to take all kinds of things and get involved in extracurricular activities as well. It’s so important to have a well-rounded experience and explore all different aspects of university.”
Dr. Andrew Hrymak, Dean of Western Engineering, says donors should be proud of the vital role they play in helping to make these students’ dreams come true. “Students like Kyle are doing extraordinary work in engineering that will have a tremendous impact on our health and on our society as a whole. Without the generosity of donors and funding like the Charles F. Ruigrok Ontario Graduate Scholarship in Engineering, many of these leading-edge research projects would not be possible. We are extremely grateful for their support.”
Now, as he looks toward the future, Kyle says he’s excited about the possibilities. “I really enjoy the research and developing things and the medical device field offers the opportunity for both. It’s also a field that’s growing and that will have an impact on our society,” he says. “Come see the labs and the research that people are doing and you’ll see the skills that are being developed every day – at conferences, in the lab and in the classroom. Donor support can be seen in buildings, in classrooms, as well as in students. It’s the way great institutions are built.”
For more information about Ontario Graduate Scholarships and the Faculty of Engineering’s campaign priorities, please contact Virginia Daugharty, Alumni Relations & Development Officer, Western Engineering (519.661.4209 or email@example.com).
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