Dispensing pills and prompts at an affordable price

June 26, 2013

CONII links CAMH with George Brown students to develop innovative tool
Rashid Karimi (left), Dr. Sean Kidd (centre) and Jackson Quang (right). Photo courtesy of CAMH.

The aim of treatment for people living with serious mental illnesses is to help them live independent and fulfilling lives, but this may be dependent on whether they regularly take their medications. Missing medication doses can have a serious impact on patients’ conditions and overall quality of life, but following a strict medication schedule can be especially difficult for those coping with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Now CAMH, in collaboration with two George Brown students, has developed an innovative tool it believes can help.

There are currently no affordable pill dispensers on the market that are customized to meet the needs of people with serious mental illnesses. To address this market gap, Dr. Sean Kidd, scientist and head of the Psychology Service in the Schizophrenia Program at CAMH, turned to the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII). CONII facilitated a collaboration between CAMH and George Brown, linking Dr. Kidd with two students who applied their training and fresh ideas to build a prototype of the product he envisioned.

Working with Dr. Kidd, Rashid Karimi and Jackson Quang of George Brown’s School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies developed an automated pill dispenser that not only gives out the correct dose of medication and reminds patients to take it, but also signals if a dispensed dose is missed. Designed to be portable, the dispenser can be taken to a pharmacist for loading of medication. Perhaps most importantly for patients with severe mental illnesses who are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, the dispenser will be much more affordable than alternatives on the market, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Karimi and Quang participated in the project as part of their final year at George Brown. They were drawn to it as an opportunity to work with a big industry partner and fully embraced the challenge, taking the lead on all aspects of the project, such as market and patent research, developing specifications, producing designs and constructing the prototype. To tackle such a huge undertaking, they drew inspiration from several sources and used innovative thinking to overcome challenges.

“With the help of our professor and research, we gathered information from other similar products and ideas that would steer us on course, and from there we just kept building and improving,” says Rashid Karimi. “I pulled products apart that gave me an idea, and used it to brainstorm new and better ideas.” 

Over eight months, the students created a low-cost, easy-to-use pill dispenser that CAMH will be moving forward to the next phase of development. Both students saw creating the prototype as an extremely rewarding experience, giving them the opportunity to apply their skills to solve a real-world problem and execute a hands-on project from start to finish.

“The difference between studying in class and working on this project is that no one taught us how to make a specific product in class,” says Jackson Quang. “This gave us the opportunity to use the knowledge we gained at George Brown to design, build and troubleshoot a product, creating something completely new – I personally don’t think it gets more practical than that.”

As they graduate from George Brown this June, both Karimi and Quang look forward to applying everything they learned from the pill dispenser project while they pursue studies at McMaster University. As for the project, a new group of students under the mentorship of a senior engineer will be working on the prototype this fall. After this next phase of development, the prototype will be fully functional and CAMH can move the pill dispenser towards testing and commercialization.