One start-up, with help from McMaster community, is making surgery a little bit safer.

Mariner Endosurgery, previously known as Virtual Possibilities, won the $20,000 cash prize at last year’s Forge@Mac start-up competition, and received entry into one of The Forge’s incubator workspaces on James Street North.

The start-up targets over 1,400 operating rooms in North America, with the goal of enhancing the patient safety profile of minimally invasive procedures. The company developed a patented, prototyped medical device for minimally invasive surgery called LaparoGuard.

LaparoGuard is a soft-tissue surgical navigation platform that augments visualization by tracking and recording the fine movements of tools during surgery. It alerts medical teams when instruments approach the boundaries of an established safe zone, similar to the popular board game Operation, to prevent and decrease the risk of injury during surgery.

Since the competition, the group has progressed forward in their successes having recently completed an investment round featuring prominent medical device investors and renowned surgeons from the local area.

McMaster has been intertwined several times in the career journey of Mitch Wilson, president and chief operating officer of Mariner Endosurgery. Wilson completed a four-year life sciences degree at McMaster and worked as a teacher before starting his Master of Business Administration at the DeGroote School of Business. It was there where he met one of his future business partners, Dr. David Langlois.

"You cannot be a master of all trades. Understand and embrace your key competencies, and address deficiencies by surrounding yourself with the right people who possess skill sets you lack."
Mitch Wilson
President and Chief Operating Officer of Mariner Endosurgery 

When speaking about his formal education at McMaster, he noted that completing his MBA presented him with opportunities that propelled him in the right direction as a future entrepreneur.

“Being a student was an advantage — there is less risk signalled when meetings and opportunities are framed as a student looking to learn more. DeGroote’s MBA program with Management of Innovation and New Technologies specialization provided ample opportunities to both learn current best management practices regarding new ventures, and the supportive ecosystem ensured plenty of opportunities to apply that learning to Mariner,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s unique education background led him to connect with the right people and carve out a unique role in his start-up.

“[Our product] LaparoGuard is the brain child of Dr. David Langlois. Dave built early prototypes, connected with me at the Synapse Life Science Competition [at DeGroote], and together we began building out the company,” Wilson said.

Considering the surging popularity for science students to later become entrepreneurs, and noting the induction of programs such as Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization, Wilson offers potent advice for current students concerning interdisciplinary learning.

“You cannot be a master of all trades. Understand and embrace your key competencies, and address deficiencies by surrounding yourself with the right people who possess skill sets you lack.”

New specializations are coming to life for the next academic year.

With an enrollment of over 1,100 students in the Honours Life Sciences program, the School of Interdisciplinary Sciences has been working to devise new specializations for the benefit of this large cohort.

The surprising twist? Students themselves are helping to spearhead the design of these specializations.

Four Life Sciences students at the university currently serve as MacPherson Student Partners under the direction of Prof. Kim Dej, who holds the MacPherson Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship.

Together, they are involved in a two-year project to analyze the impact of specializations on student engagements and academic success.

“Last summer, [the faculty] reached out to students, where we held a day-long workshop asking them what they would like to see. That workshop made us realize we should have been working with students all along,” said Prof. Dej, “[I think] an important part of life science curriculum development has these partnerships with students.”

Over the past year, the student partners have been working on curriculum design, looking at outcomes, as well as survey data. They have come up with eight tentative sub plans before finalizing two as optional specializations for the program.

The specializations gravitate towards the subject of human health and wellbeing to captivate student interest. Rather than merely serving as a gateway to professional school, the specializations are more so intended to provide exposure to diverse topics and many potential career paths.

Students working for students appear to be the key theme of this project.

“Talking to friends of mine who have either graduated or are in fourth year, they feel like they needed more structure in the program,” said Aisha Mohamed, a third-year Life Sciences student, and MacPherson student partner. “ It’s been nice getting feedback and knowing that we can make changes to accommodate them.”

“I would have wanted more guidance out of first year that would direct me for the next three years,” added Hannah Kearney, also a student partner.

"Talking to friends of mine who have either graduated or are in fourth year, they feel like they needed more structure in the program."
Aisha Mohamed
MacPherson Student partner 

The two specializations, Sensory Motor Systems and Origin of Disease, are currently in the process of being finalized. Pending approval by the Senate, the new plans may be offered as soon as in the Fall 2017 curriculum.

Looking forward, Prof. Dej hopes to accomplish much more for the students in the Honours Life Sciences program by directing an interdisciplinary approach. Some of the areas she hopes to cover include public health, policy and science communications, among others.

“This isn’t the end; we want to explore more and hopefully explore outside the faculty to find things that cross these academic silos. Students who enter into the sciences are still interested in humanities and social sciences, and we wish to make these things thread together,” she said.

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The recent change to the Honours Life Sciences curriculum tops what has been a year of many changes for the program. The current curriculum draws in students looking for flexibility in course selections. Despite graduating with the same degree, students in the program have taken a variety of courses such as biology, psychology, ecology and more. The reasoning behind the changes in curriculum arose from concerns surrounding whether the flexibility ultimately held students back from developing the necessary skills that they need to progress past graduation.

For Biology professor Kimberly Dej, this is a major concern. “We knew that students appreciated the flexibility but we also worried about what students ended up with when they graduated. Whether you’re in health care, politics and policy – you have to think like a scientist … And what we found is that by fourth-year students were still taking a group of courses that were very broad and they were still experimenting with courses. So there was no progression upward through the years.”


A committee made up of all the contributing departments and two student members was assembled to revise the curriculum. While in the past, required courses were grouped by year level of the course, the new curriculum groups required courses by broader skill sets: research skills, communication skills and an experiential component. Courses that were mandatory before are conserved under this system, but are organized differently.

Under the umbrella category for research skills is the living systems laboratory course that aims to introduce students to novel research techniques. Making statistics a required course was done as a means of ensuring that students in science are able to understand and interpret data presented in research. Past analyses showed that most students take Genetics, so making it a required second year course was not considered to be a big change.


The communication courses ensure that students have the necessary skills to hold their own symposium, hold a debate and develop other skills necessary in the scientific field. Finally, the experiential component features a thesis or project course in third or fourth year, a placement course, community engagement course or peer-mentoring course.

“It’s a real shame if you graduate with a science degree and you’re never in a lab and all you do is fill in multiple choice bubble questions. I think we are letting down the students if they spend four years doing that, so we wanted to think about how they can apply these skills in really meaningful ways,” said Dej.

The number of electives that students are able to take is conserved in the new curriculum, meaning that there is no loss in flexibility to do a minor or to take courses outside of science.


Students currently in their second year of Honours Life Sciences and higher will not be affected by these curriculum changes. Students currently in level one of a gateway program that plan on entering into the Honours Life Sciences stream will take courses as per the new curriculum but will have the same admission requirements as the previous years. The following year will also see changes to the courses requirement for entry into the program, with math, biology, chemistry and physics being required.

“What we found is that by fourth-year students were still taking a group of courses that were very broad and they were still experimenting with courses. So there was no progression upward through the years.”

The next step is to develop subplans, or specific smaller sets of courses within Honours Life Science that allow for a greater variety of interests. Students will be actively involved in the development of these subplans, as they were involved in the development of the curriculum through surveys and a public discussion.

Students with questions or concerns are encouraged to reach out to the administrative department, as well as those who are interested in being involved in the creation of curriculum changes.

Photo Credit: Kareem Baassiri/ Photo Contributor

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After a McMaster University Senate meeting on Jan. 8th, Life Sciences and Arts & Science students will have more options to look forward to.

The Senate approved the establishment of an Honours Life Science Program Co-op and the creation of a Combined Honours Arts & Sciences and Music Program. In December, the plans were approved by the University Planning Committee, but ratified by the Senate Jan. 8.

Each of these programs will be included in the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Calendar.

In its report to the Senate, the Undergraduate Council said that Life Science Students are interested.

“Interest from Life Science students in a cooperative education option has been extremely high. Labour market research indicated that the life sciences sector continues to grow,” the report stated.

The Life Sciences Co-op Program will accept between 20 and 25 students in its first year, but expand to hold up to 35 students by 2016.

Students will be able to enter the program after Level II Honours Life Sciences with a minimum cumulative average of 6.0. But because of the small size of the program, acceptance will be very competitive, and the average CA of admitted students will likely be much higher.

The co-op program will be a five-year program, including two eight-month work terms.

The new combined honours program will be jointly developed with the School of the Arts and the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Students will apply to combine during their first year, and must pass a music audition and complete Arts & Science I with at least a 6.0 cumulative average, including an average of at least 7.0 in Music 1CC3 and Music 1EO6.

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