Douglas Kondro, a doctoral student at the University of Calgary, has developed a process that shows promise in treating patients with type 1 diabetes.


Six years ago, Douglas Kondro devised a unique prosthetic for an abandoned rooster who had lost his fingers to freeze.

That would be a great life achievement for every 20-year-old.

But the University of Calgary PhD student in biomechanical engineering, now 26, is getting a new appreciation, this time for his work escalating (at one million microtissues at a time) an existing process that ultimately may reverse the effects of type 1 diabetes, while potentially assisting other areas of stem cell research.

He received the 2019 Outstanding Innovation Award from the nonprofit Mitacs, which promotes the growth and innovation of business and academia.

Kondro was drawn to engineering because it applies science to the real world, building solutions to biological challenges.

In his first doctoral lab, he used prototyping equipment and his mechanical engineering background to develop turkey prosthetics.

Kondro still has that company: “I’ve been approached by people from all over the world to step on everything, from hawks to goats.”

But now, Kondro, a former elite athlete on inter-university and field and field teams (three times CIS Academic All-Canadian), is focusing his attention on the tissue.

The existing Edmonton protocol looks at tissue taken from a donor pancreas and implanted in the liver of a type I diabetes patient, helping to produce insulin. However, after a few years, the patient should normally return to insulin externally when the tissue dies. The Kondro process creates longer, longer cells, producing better results.

Kondro hopes to complete his doctorate this year, and is applying to study with a Japanese Nobel Prize team in the field of stem cell research.

Meanwhile, its stem cell innovation will begin the regulatory process toward direct patient assistance.

“I spend a lot of time sitting in a lab watching cells grow, but I know this can have a huge impact on people’s lives. I like to use technical expertise to create things that solve problems.”