2016 Winner: Leaders Of Tomorrow Sponsored By Alberta Economic Development And Trade
Using Entrepreneurship to Improve Biomechanics
Becoming a national research leader and creating and running a successful company is out of reach for many in a lifetime, but Dr. Ryan Lewinson has done it all by the age of 27, while still a full-time medical student.
Lewinson says his passions drive his success. “I love looking into different product development ideas; I love learning how our bones, joints, muscles and other tissues interact; and I love solving new problems,” he says. “So I basically do what I love, and love what I do.”
It’s this yearning to find answers that fed Lewinson’s success in biomechanics, which is “taking engineering and physics principles and applying them to a biological situation to understand organism or tissue movement, structure or function,” he explains.
Building Biomechanics into a Business
Lewinson’s journey into biomechanics began in 2010 at the University of Calgary. He partnered with local clinics and international footwear companies to study the biomechanics of running, where he developed new footwear to treat patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee).
Lewinson moved on to studying knee osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease which causes painful stiffening of the knee due to cartilage breakdown. Lewinson invented and patented a new system for prescribing specialized footwear for people with osteoarthritis, and partnered with New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. to conduct a clinical trial.
“We found a new way of predicting the type of shoe that someone would need, without them having to go through a big biomechanical testing scenario,” says Lewinson. “This is hopefully going to be something that allows patients to come into the clinic or store, use our system, and then very quickly know what kind of shoe or orthotic they need to reduce pain and allow them to get back to the functionality they had before knee osteoarthritis.”
In 2014, Lewinson received international exposure for his work on a project analyzing the biomechanics of snow shoveling to optimize shovel design. This study was published and then shared internationally, including in the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, stemming from his interest in wildlife and hiking, he used his expertise to publish a study on the biomechanics of mountain goats to determine how they are able to climb nearly vertical cliffs.
Lewinson completed his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering in 2015, having been awarded nearly $700,000 in scholarships, publishing over 20 journal articles, and being involved in teaching and mentoring students in biomechanics and professional development. One of his awards was the Vanier Scholarship, which is Canada’s highest honour for a Ph.D. student. He is now in his second year of his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) training, where he has continued research in biomechanics and taken on clinical projects in rheumatology and dermatology.
Lewinson also entered the world of entrepreneurship in 2015 by creating his own research consulting start-up called glacierRx.
“During grad school I was approached by several companies about optimizing some of their products,” says Lewinson. “So I created glacierRx to offer some of the insights that I have in biomechanics, and hopefully help companies innovate new products for their customers.”
Currently in the middle of his M.D. training, Lewinson is looking toward a bright future. “My goal is to use glacierRx as a platform for offering clinical medicine to individual patients and as a research hub to develop new technologies,” says Lewinson. “A big challenge in science is transferring innovations from the lab to the clinic for patients to benefit from, so if I can do science and medicine under one roof then hopefully that will help.”