Qidni Labs: Building filters for artificial kidneys and the ISS

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&ldquo;We wanted to build an artificial kidney,&rdquo; Morteza Ahmadi explained when describing how he got the idea for his company&rsquo;s nano-filters. &ldquo;We looked at three properties needed for a filtration system that would work when implanted in a patient: durability, compatibility, and core size in the nano range.&rdquo; Coincidently, these three very important properties are what attracted the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) to Qidni Labs.</p>

Qidni Labs was founded by Morteza Ahmadi who received his Ph.D from UW and developed his company in the fall of 2014 with the help of the Velocity Science lab at the University of Waterloo.

The Nano Filters

The nano filtration technology developed by Ahmadi and his small team was never their clear goal. “We kind of started looking into creating these filters by finding a problem, working on it, and finding a solution that has other applications as well,” Ahmadi said. The problem they settled on was kidney failure leading to having an artificial transplant or hemodialysis, a process in which the blood is filtered in a similar way to how a kidney would filter it naturally.

“We knew the properties needed, but there was no solution out there,” Ahmadi recalled when speaking of the challenges they faced. Kidneys are remarkable filtration devices and were the inspiration behind their solution — to learn how to mimic this incredible biological filtration artificially. After extensive research and a few trials, they eventually settled on a nanotechnology in which they were able to make incredibly small filters with pores similar to those of a kidney — about 7.2 nanometers.

The CSA and Looking Ahead

In December 2014 the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) awarded Qidni Labs a $200,000 grant to develop their filters for use on the ISS (International Space Station) which put a bit of a twist in Ahmadi’s original business plans for the company. “This is something very new … and we have big plans on how to use it. We definitely want to expand the team so if there are any students interested in the project, I would suggest they contact me. We also want to focus on making really, really, good filters,” he remarked.

Ahmadi explained how they fit into the CSA’s interests: “We just submit reports to them and keep them updated on the filters.” The filters’ true potential lies in Ahmadi’s original three properties: durability, compatibility, and their ability to control the core size in the nanometer range. Mainly, the CSA is interested in durability. “Space is a harsh environment with radiation so they want something that will last for a long time.”

In terms of how this will play out with their future business plans, Ahmadi stated that “if we find new applications for space with these filters — that’s a new market and we can license the new technology. If the market is big enough, we can have a small team working in that area and bring the product to market.”

However, this all depends on how the next two years pass for them and space isn’t the limit. “For now, we are just looking into the market and its potential. When you have a small team, you need to be focused. At this moment what we’re focused on is making amazing filters. If these filters have applications in other industries, then we’ll definitely look into it.”

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

“Don’t do this in isolation! Join startup incubators, join Velocity, join communities, and talk to people.” Ahmadi said. “Even if you have an idea, or even if you don’t, but you just want to have a company and you just want to start. Talk to people in the field since there are some really great mentors as they will help you out. Talk to people who have done this before and to students who have done this and are now successful. Talk to us. I’d be happy to sit down with anyone.”

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