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‘Good marriage’

Bounce Health Innovation, MUNMed 3D share space and collaborate

Teaching and Learning

By Terri Coles

A multi-use, multi-functional space that brings students, entrepreneurs and people in the medical field, computer sciences, engineering and tech together under one roof.

The coming together of MUNMed 3D and Bounce Health Innovation’s physical spaces on the third floor of the Faculty of Medicine is creating opportunities for people in the med-tech sector to connect with each other, the university and the wider community.

MUNMed 3D Printing Lab

The MUNMed 3D lab originally began in 2017, when three undergraduate medical students highlighted the value of 3D printing for anatomical model simulation tools, says Dr. Patricia Cousins, manager of medical laboratories at the faculty.

With the help of a faculty lead and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency funding, the 3D lab was born.

The students went on to co-found PolyUnity Tech, a medical technology startup. However, when the faculty lead moved on from Memorial, activity decreased.

“There was no time to waste, at that point.” — Dr. Patricia Cousins

In late 2019 the faculty decided to reopen the lab. By March 2020, with COVID-19 a significant factor, the need for protective face shields became obvious.

The university put together a lenders agreement to allow PolyUnity to borrow the lab’s 3D printers. Within weeks, the company’s face shields were in use in clinical areas and operating rooms.

“I think it’s a great example of innovation and nimbleness, being able to solve problems,” said Dr. Cousins. “There was no time to waste, at that point.”

Bounce Health Innovation

Bounce Health Innovation began in 2018 as a pilot project meant to help med-tech companies like PolyUnity get off the ground, says director Dr. Chandra Kavanagh.

“There were a number of groups and resources in Newfoundland and Labrador that were focused on entrepreneurs,” she said. “What they found was that entrepreneurs in health care, med tech and the biosciences were coming to them looking for assistance.”

It’s a unique sector with very different regulatory compliance infrastructures and product timelines, so companies needed specialized help, she says.

A photograph of four white 3D printers on a shelf. Inside the printer on the right side of the image is a 3D-printed model of a human hand, in beige.
3D printers in the shared MUN Med 3D and Bounce Innovation space in the Faculty of Medicine. Inside the first printer, a 3D model of a human hand is in progress.
Photo: Jennifer Armstrong

Bounce has experienced some notable success since the launch. Local company BreatheSuite now has 25 employees and FDA approval for its medical device, for example.

“They were one of the first companies that was really supported by Bounce in this initial stage,” said Dr. Kavanagh.

In 2020 Bounce received funding for three years and hired Dr. Kavanagh, its first full-time employee. At the outset, she hoped to support 20 companies or 20 health-care innovations. As of September 2022, Bounce was already at more than 60.

“It turns out that there was just this pool of talented individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador who had incredible ideas for health-care innovations, and who didn’t necessarily know where they were going to go next in order to push that forward,” she said. “Bounce was lucky enough to be dropped in that pool of talented individuals, and to bring them together and provide them with support.”

Working together

Bounce’s space is used in several ways.

Home to Dr. Kavanagh’s office, it hosts events like networking gatherings or intern meetups. Its partner companies can host meetings or product demonstrations when needed.

Sharing the space with the 3D lab helps the two entities work together to support each others’ activities, as well.

Four women stand in front of pop-up banners.
From left are Stephanie Gibbons, Dr. Patricia Cousins, Dr. Sarah Power and Dr. Chandra Kavanagh.
Photo: Jennifer Armstrong

For example, during Bounce’s Health Innovation Month in May, participants in a hack-a-thon event were given access to the lab to 3D print their proposed solutions with technician Stephanie Gibbons.

“One of the things you hear is that doctors hang out with doctors, and they talk to doctors,” Dr. Kavanagh said. “That means they might not get as much of an opportunity to bring their issues or their concerns to engineers, to computer scientists, to students — to the kind of people who might come up with creative solutions. Bringing the two groups together made sense because of the synergies between their work.”

Research benefits

There’s also great value for researchers, both in accessing the space and using the 3D-printing resources.

“As a researcher, I just have the value in so many areas of research,” said Dr. Sarah Power, an assistant professor jointly appointed between the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Students can develop their research projects with the lab in mind, says Dr. Power, who is the faculty lead for both the 3D lab and Bounce. Students and researchers can also work on personal projects or entrepreneurial ideas, as time and space allow.

“There’s so much interest in undergraduate engineering in biomedical engineering, and many of their capstone projects are starting to become biomedical-engineering related. I’m always encouraging my students to think about the potential entrepreneurial or commercialization aspect, and now I can direct them to Bounce. It’s just such a good marriage.”

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