Monday, January 26, 2009

  • $750,000 in capital for imaging spinoff
  • More profs on six-month sabbaticals
  • Elections, a federal budget, and more
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

$750,000 in capital for imaging spinoff

Venture capitalists have ponied up $750,000 in start-up funding for a new company that will distribute software developed in a UW systems design engineering lab.

The software is the Omni Modality Intelligent Segmentation Assistant, fortunately abbreviated to OMISA in the company’s name. It comes from a lab where work has been under way for years on “intelligent segmentation” of medical images. The inventor team includes faculty member Hamid Tizhoosh and three former PhD students: Shahryar Rahnamayan (now a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology), Farhang Sahba (a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto), and Maryam Shokri (now a scientist with OMISA).

Segmentation — looking at the data from an MRI, X-ray or ultrasound image in regular thin slices to locate, measure and identify a feature or a tumour — is “identified by radiologists as a tedious and time-consuming task”, says Sam Visaisouk of UW’s research office, who has played a key role in turning the OMISA software from a lab curiosity into a marketable product.

Visaisouk is “entrepreneur-in-residence” in the research office’s Intellectual Property Management Group, where half a dozen staff members are available to work with faculty on commercializing the results of their research. Sometimes the result is a licensing agreement by which a large company buys the rights to an invention. But other times, as with OMISA, a whole new company is created, with ambitions of multi-million-dollar revenues if everything goes well.

OMISA is one of about 20 companies that have been created in that way, says Tom Corr, associate vice-president (commercialization) and the manager of the intellectual property group. As with most of the other companies, the university has taken a 25 per cent share in the ownership — and the eventual profits — while the researchers own the other 75 per cent.

[Sheaves of documentation in the foreground]“IPMG developed the business model, business plan and financing plan that led to a $750,000 investment by First Leaside Vision Fund,” says Corr. First Leaside is a well-established investment firm that’s beginning to get interested in high-tech companies since the provincial government created the Ontario Commercialization Investment Funds to carry a share of the financial risk. (Pictured: Sam Visaisouk, left, and Tom Corr, right, of IPMG pose with researcher Tizhoosh and First Leaside representative Leon Efraim at a cheque presentation in early December.)

In the current economic situation, “the venture capital market is in terrible shape,” says Corr, so the company’s investment is a big vote of confidence in the UW-created technology and its market potential.

What next? “IPMG has recruited Jacqueline Csonka-Peeren as president to manage the company, and she has secured an OCE grant to support some of the technical development. . . . We’re ready to transform this into commercial software.” Testing and tweaking will take place over the next year or so at research hospitals in Canada and the United States.

The selling point for OMISA, says Visaisouk, is “the novel learning capability of the technology, providing faster image processing, at high accuracy, than any commercially available method. Determining whether a guy’s going to live or die based on a fuzzy image is a lot of responsibility! OMISA learns and improves its segmentation ability through on-line clinician training and feedback. It can drastically reduce the time required to segment an image.”

A major potential market is the companies that make medical imaging equipment, but the new firm also intends to make OMISA available to clinicians and remote practitioners, who can use it to read medical images and make diagnoses faster and better, Visaisouk said.

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More profs on six-month sabbaticals

Here’s another list of UW faculty members whose sabbatical leaves began January 1, along with their plans for the leave as reported to UW’s board of governors. All the sabbaticals in this list are six months long, ending June 30.

Andrew McMurry, department of English: “I will be working on a book entitled Figures of Progress, which is a study of the discourse of modernity from the perspective of cognitive metaphors and embodied rhetoric.”

David John, Germanic and Slavic studies: “I plan to spend my sabbatical in Germany and Austria continuing my research on intercultural German theatre, Fritz Bennewitz’s Faust productions, and his correspondence with German and Indian scholars, directors, and actors. I plan further to immerse myself as much as possible in German language and culture which is essential for my professional refreshment as a professor of German.”

Richard Kelly, geography and environmental management: “This leave is requested to conduct research at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NOAA related to remote sensing of the cryosphere; to conduct snow and ice field research in Churchill, Manitoba, in connection with our CFI grant; and to work on several papers and a book chapter related to Earth Observation of the Cryosphere.”

John Lewis, school of planning: “During my leave, I will continue to work on my SSHRC funded project Cognition and the Built Environment: an examination of the wayfinding abilities and requirements of people with Alzheimer’s Disease in the Urban Environment. In addition, I will be preparing 3 joint manuscripts with my graduate students for publication.”

Alan Huang, accounting and finance: “I plan to allocate my time to the revision of existing papers and to the completion of new papers. By the end of the year, I expect to have five or six papers under review. I will be spending my sabbatical revising these papers for resubmission. I also will work on four papers that are work-in-progress and an SSHRC project.”

Kenneth Westhues, sociology: “Since 1991, most of my scholarly effort has gone toward developing the scientific study of workplace mobbing and institutionalizing it in Canadian academic life, as has already been achieved in Europe. I plan to continue this work. Specific projects include a new journal, a user-friendly database, editing Heinz Leymann’s work, and a new website.”

Doug Park, pure mathematics: “I plan to use my sabbatical to develop new research projects and to broaden my research expertise. In particular, I plan to participate in research activities at the Fields Institute and visit my collaborators in Turkey and the U.S. for extended periods.”

David Saunders, statistics and actuarial science: “The purpose of the leave is to continue my research into the applications of probability and stochastic optimization to problems in insurance and finance. In particular, I plan to develop further recent research that I have conducted into credit risk management, and problems of optimal stopping.”

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Elections, a federal budget, and more

The elaborate process of choosing UW's next vice-president (academic) and provost is underway, in anticipation of the June 30 departure of Amit Chakma, provost since 2001. He's leaving Waterloo to become president of the University of Western Ontario. Voting begins this morning to fill several seats on the vice-presidential nominating committee: two representing staff members, and seven representing various groups of faculty. Most faculty and staff members will have had an e-mail message this morning announcing that the election is under way, with online voting opening at 8 a.m. today and closing at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Details are on the secretariat web site (and those with difficulty can consult the secretariat in Needles Hall.

Another election is impending: the one operated by the Federation of Students to choose its four-person executive for 2009-10, as well as members of students' council and undergraduate student representatives on the UW senate. Nominations closed Friday, and I'm rather expecting that the Feds will announce a full candidate list today, in anticipation of the beginning of the campaign period tomorrow. Actual voting — again online — is scheduled for February 10-12.

Last year's two-day "staff conference" is becoming an annual event. Here's word from the office of Organizational and Human Development: "The Second Annual UW Staff Conference — “2 More Full Days Just for You” — will be held on April 6-7, 2009. OHD will be sending posters to departments advertising the event in the coming weeks. Once again, the two-day conference will be devoted to enriching the working lives of staff at UW. The conference will have some terrific keynote speakers. Among them: Carole Bertuzzi Luciani ('Moodivation'), David Posen ('Stress Management'), Chris Bart ('Tale of Two Employees'), staff favourite Lionel Laroche ('Diversity'), and Dawn Fuller ('Laughter, Learning, and Leading'). As well, the conference will offer a variety of workshops sessions and a new staff conference element, 'Your Passport to Health', brought to you by Occupational Health and the Employee Assistance Program. The workshop sessions will be held at different times in both morning and afternoon to provide flexibility for departments. In mid-February, staff will receive a personal invitation and an agenda outlining all the conference offerings. Also at that time, the conference website will have the full listing of events, speakers, and sessions. Registration opens on March 4."

The Federation of Students is advertising for suggested projects to be carried out this year with support from the Student Life Endowment Fund. • The UW library notes in its latest e-newsletter that the Center for Research Libraries, a Chicago-based treasury of printed matter to which UW subscribes, "recently added over $172,000 worth of content" on topics ranging from British policy in the Far East to the work of grassroots feminist organizations. • Major roof repairs on the Hagey Hall of the Humanities began last week and are expected to continue until late April, the plant operations department says, warning that "odours may be noticeable."

And . . . just in case you don't read newspapers, watch television or check your RSS feed too often, here's a reminder that the federal Throne Speech is scheduled for today and finance minister Jim Flaherty's budget for tomorrow. The two documents together are expected to determine the future of the Conservative government, as it's within the power of the opposition parties to unite against the two days' proposals and bring down the government and prime minister Stephen Harper. Or not, of course. UW political scientist Peter Woolstencroft is quoted about some of the issues and scenarios in this morning's Globe and Mail.


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[Gung hai fat choi]

Celebrations of the new year are in full swing, as the “year of the ox”, one of a dozen animals that make up the East Asian calendar, began with the coming of the new moon early this morning. Observances for the beginning of year 4707 continue until the Lantern Festival, two weeks away. The conventional cry is “Gung hai fat choi!” — happy new year — the festival isn't just a “Chinese” new year. It's observed by overlapping communities that include not just Chinese — themselves speakers of two different languages, Mandarin and Cantonese — but Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino and other groups. There was controversy “Japanese” appeared in that list in the Daily Bulletin this time last year; Japan has almost entirely adopted January 1 as its new year’s day, I was firmly told. I have seen very little so far about new year celebrations that are planned by UW’s many Chinese and other East Asian societies, but would be glad to have details and pass them along in this space.

Link of the day

Celebrations across Canada

When and where

Chinese New Year buffet at the University Club 11:30 to 2:00, $18.50, reservations ext. 33801.

Joint Health and Safety Committee 1:30, Commissary building room 112D.

Ontario attorney-general Chris Bentley makes announcement about Aboriginal justice services, 2:30 p.m., St. Paul’s College, by invitation.

Health informatics seminar: David M. Dilts, Vanderbilt University, “Are Clinical Trials in North America Going the Way of the Oldsmobile?” 3:00 p.m., Davis Centre room 1302.

‘Does God Matter?’ debate sponsored by Creekside Church and Campus for Christ 7:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre, students $2.

Federation of Students election campaign January 27 through February 9; polling February 10-12.

‘Activating Cambridge’: Independent studies student and community advocate Andy Hourahine speaks on his work with Active Cambridge, Tuesday 10:00 a.m., Graduate House.

Education Credit Union seminar on “Tax-Free Savings Accounts and Your RRSP” Tuesday 12:15 p.m., Davis Centre room 1302.

Career workshops Tuesday: “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1208; “Basics of Starting a Business” 4:30, TC 1208; “Working Effectively in Another Culture” 4:30, TC 2218. Details.

Graduate Studies Awards Reception for Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision, President’s Graduate Scholarships and NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards, Tuesday 3:00 p.m., Festival Room, South Campus Hall, by invitation.

‘Opportunities in Policing’: presentation on “The Right Fit to Serve”, sponsored by residences Living-Learning programs and Waterloo Regional Police, Tuesday 5:30 p.m., Village I great hall. Details.

Communitech breakfast forum with speaker Thomas Homer-Dixon, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wednesday 7:30 a.m., Bingemans Conference Centre, Kitchener. Details.

Knowledge Integration seminar: Keith Hipel, systems design engineering, “Trade Versus the Environment: Strategic Settlement from a Systems Engineering Perspective”, Wednesday 3:00, University Club.

Employer interviews for spring co-op work term January 29 through February 27; rankings open February 27, 1 p.m..

Emergency alert test involving voicemail, text messages, UW home page, Thursday 11 a.m. Details.

International Spouses Chinese cooking and new year celebration, Thursday 12:45 p.m., Columbia Lake Village community centre, fee $3. Preregister (e-mail by Monday. Details.

Engineering Research Office presents “Commercialization Success at Waterloo: How Your Office of Research Can Help” Thursday 1:30, Davis Centre room 1304, register ext. 32060.

‘Canada-India: Understanding a Turbulent Past’, history professor Ryan Touhey, Thursday 7:00 p.m., Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome’s University.

Fee arrangements for winter term: last day January 30.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Using UW-ACE to Help Students Prepare for Your Large Class” Friday 10:30 a.m., Dana Porter Library room 329. Details.

‘What Does(n’t) It Mean to Be Adopted?’ lecture by drama and speech communication professor Robert Ballard and psychotherapist Sarah Ballard, Saturday 10:00 a.m., Rod Coutts Hall room 301. Details.

UW board of governors meets Tuesday, February 3, 2:30 p.m. (Pre-meeting briefing on academic progress, 1:15 p.m.)

Job Fair 2009 sponsored by UW and other post-secondary institutions, Wednesday, February 4, 10:00 to 3:30, RIM Park, Waterloo. Details.

Student drama production February 5-14 in Studio 180, Humanities building, details to be announced.

Yesterday's Daily Bulletin