In a research facility in London’s East End, a team from Halifax-based Metamaterial Technologies Inc. is toiling in a sector that’s not seen as the company’s core business.

They’re working on medical devices.

MTI is a specialist in producing metamaterials – materials comprising compounds not found in nature – that alter light, either by magnifying, repelling or filtering it. The company is best known for its metaAIR venture with Airbus, which is producing a transparent covering for airplane cockpit windows that can filter out laser attacks.

In contrast, the company’s U.K. office applies its knowledge of new materials to help with medical diagnoses. Bringing these products to market takes longer than the company’s other projects due to the need in biotech for clinical trials and regulatory approval.

“The mission of MTI is to use advanced materials in different markets, so it’s still within the spirit of MTI because we’re still using exotic materials to manipulate light,” said MTI Chief Science Officer Themos Kallos, in an interview at the Queen Mary BioEnterprise Innovation Centre in London’s Whitechapel district.

Kallos and CEO George Palikaras actually founded MTI in London in 2010, but decided to headquarter the company in Halifax due to the supports available. For years, they maintained two companies – Halifax-based MTI to develop industrial products and London-based Mediwise for the healthcare market. Last year, the two companies merged when MTI bought Mediwise, so the London office under Kallos’ stewardship could research medical products and support the company’s other offices in Halifax and Pleasanton, Calif.

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The five-person team in London is now working on these three projects, all of which will be years in development:

  • A non-invasive diagnostic tool to check glucose levels in blood. Kallos says about 50 million diabetics globally have to test blood sugar levels regularly (some several times a day) through pin pricks. MTI’s product, now called GlucoWise, sends radiowaves through the skin, using metamaterials to amplify the accuracy of the readings that detect glucose. MTI has conducted pre-clinical trials on humans and animals for this product, which could end the pain of current tests for millions of people.
  • A product that improves the resolution of MRI images. The product, which has also been tested on humans, places a metamaterial block beside the subject during an MRI, and the light is altered so the images are far more precise. Kallos said the product can speed up the MRI process, which could reduce hospitals’ costs and improve patient care.
  • A new process that can assess strokes. After someone has a stroke, the first step of the diagnosis is to have a CAT scan or MRI scan to assess what part of the brain has been affected. MTI is working on a portable device that can perform this scan, so it could be carried out by a paramedic in an ambulance, saving valuable time after the patient has suffered the stroke.

The projects are similar to MTI’s other projects because they all deal with the manipulation of light or other energy waves as it passes through a substance. But Kallos added that the healthcare market is different because he is frequently contacted by diabetics, sick of their daily tests, asking when the new non-invasive test will be ready.

The goal is to find the time, money and resources to do clinical trials with at least one of these products and find a major medical device company to partner with on its development.