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Robarts Profile: Global Impact - Dr. Aaron Fenster

Aaron Fenster, PhD, uses the technology he creates to change the lives of people all over the world. He believes that researchers have an obligation not just to advance knowledge, but to also use that knowledge in a way that benefits society.

“It’s not good enough to just do research and publish it,” he said. “We have to be able to turn that research around and have an impact on human health.”

During the last two decades, this philosophy combined with dedication, hard work and ingenuity has allowed Fenster to be the catalyst for dozens of projects that have been adapted into clinical use around the globe.

Using 3D ultrasound, Fenster and his team have developed technologies that allow doctors to precisely guide tools for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. This technology is being used in hospitals in Asia, Europe and North America.

They are currently working with a company in India to develop similar technology for use in liver cancer. Using radiofrequency and microwave they can precisely target small tumours in the liver to destroy them.

“This technique isn’t new, but our approach is to make it suitable for the developing world,” Fenster said.

Approximately 80 per cent of the world’s liver cancer patients are in the developing world mainly because of poor infection control practices that lead to the spread of Hepatitis B, the leading cause of primary liver cancer.

Fenster’s new technology uses ultrasound guidance instead of CT or MRI, which can cost up to 20 times more to acquire, opening the door for use in areas of the globe where access to these more expensive imaging techniques is just not possible.

Funded through the Canada-India ISTP program, they are now only months away from developing a prototype which will be replicated for use in a multi-institutional international trial.

Fenster and his team are also in the late stages of testing a new hand-held device to monitor bleeding in the brains of premature babies. Like his previous inventions, this technology can be used with an inexpensive, portable ultrasound machine to provide accurate management without the use of MRI. It is currently being tested at London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ontario and recent CIHR funding will allow them to expand the trial beyond the local market.

“People have cancer all over the world, and babies are born prematurely all over the world," Fenster said. "So just developing technology for use in Canada, or even North America, really minimizes the impact.”

With his sights set on continuing to make a global impact, Fenster continues to look for commercial partners to help distribute his technology to those who need it in every country around the world.

“Nowadays, it is not good enough to do research, publish it, and do a clinical trial,” he said. “We have to go a step further. We have to find a way to distribute it to the patients that will benefit the most.”