Democratizing Healthcare and Testing with Skills Learned in the WRDSB
“I can’t put it into words how grateful I am for those teachers at WCI.”
In October 2022, Neil Mitra had only been at university for a little over a month, but he was already feeling successful, due in no small part to what he learned as a student in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB).
“It’s been lots of fun and I’m loving all my courses,” Neil said in October. “My first month here at UBC has been quite fruitful. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of months.”
Neil, who graduated from Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) in early 2022, is studying Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC). We caught up with Neil in May 2022 to talk about the multiplex cardiac testing device he is developing with his company, Mitra Biotechnologies.
For Mitra, this work hits close to home.
“In 2019, I lost my close Aunt due to a heart attack,” said Mitra.
Through this experience, he was inspired to find a way to improve the level of care available to those suffering a heart attack around the world. In May of 2019, he created the concept for his device and filed a provisional patent.
“We realized that the pressing issue is that these doctors are unable to get cardiac biomarkers at the point of care,” said Mitra.
So what does his device do? Built on a small piece of paper, it uses microfluidics and a nanofilter to separate the plasma from whole blood to test for a variety of protein biomarkers related to heart attacks. These biomarkers can tell doctors which part of the heart is being damaged, and allow them to determine the best treatment more quickly. Currently available blood tests are slower by comparison, delaying treatment.
“Right now, it would take you nearly an hour to detect these biomarkers and we can do it in five minutes with our system,” said Mitra. “For cardiac surgeons, time is tissue. Time is the golden elixir for saving a patient’s life.”
The innovative outlook and approach that Neil embodies in his work is emblematic of the spirit of Waterloo Region, and the type of learning that takes place in WRDSB schools and classrooms each and every day.
Mitra’s vision and outstanding commitment to biotechnology haven’t gone unnoticed. He was named a Global Teen Leader. Led by the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF), Global Teen Leaders are selected for their work addressing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Their goal is to support, amplify and mentor “the work of global youth leaders around the world who are crucial to solving the most pressing problems facing our planet.”
Work continues on the device, as the company is now looking to raise funds to begin prototyping and testing with patient samples. Neil is optimistic, as the costs associated with testing their device are lower than typical medical technology.
“Our device is paper-based, so we get to cut down a lot of those costs in prototyping,” said Neil.
In August 2022, they hit an important milestone. The nanomaterial in their paper-based device hit near centrifugation separation of solid blood products from whole human blood. This helps to demonstrate the effectiveness of their device that aims to revolutionize the speed with which heart attacks can be identified and treated.
“It’s been busy,” said Neil with a smile.
Though he hadn’t had much spare time to reflect, he had recognized how well his teachers prepared him for his post-secondary pathway.
“I can’t put it into words how grateful I am for those teachers at WCI,” said Neil. “Without them, university would be exponentially more difficult.”
Neil reminisced about how the time he spent in advanced placement math, calculus and physics classes gave him a leg up on his peers. For example, in his first year physics class at UBC, they were solving problems in three dimensions using matrices. This is familiar territory for Neil, thanks to Mr. Eaton at WCI, who taught this method for solving in two dimensions.
“We already learned that in high school, at WCI,” said Neil. “I feel pretty grateful for that.”
He credits Mr. Eaton, along with Mrs. McCarl Palmer, Ms. Banit, Mr. Brown and Mr. Cressman for helping him to be prepared for the challenges of post-secondary education.
This type of excellence in education and in preparing students for their chosen pathways can be seen at secondary schools across the WRDSB. Educators, no matter their field of study, are committed to ensuring that students have the skills and knowledge they need to hit the ground running when they graduate.
Neil has enjoyed the opportunity to bring his learning to bear at UBC.
“Taking all my learnings from high school and applying it here, has been quite fun,” said Neil.
What he took with him is more than just theoretical knowledge – though his bookshelf is now full of thick university textbooks, his high school notes have a special place on the shelf.
“I knew that it would be helpful for university.”