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JOSEPH DADSON (Toronto Star)

The idea to develope a better dialysis machine was born out of frustration for Dr. Joseph Dadson.

He was a bio-medical engineer, working at a downtown Toronto hospital, in the early l970's, and the existing dialysis machines, used to cleanse the blood of patients suffering from kidney failure, yielded few happy endings.

So Dadson and Mahesh Agarwal, another engineering graduate from the University of New Brunswick, set out to design a more efficient dialysis unit that infuses cleansing solutions into the abdomen in what is called peritoneal dialysis.

In l976, their final design was ready to show manufacturers. It displayed the world's first electronically-controlled peritoneal dialysis machine, but no company would risk building the new invention. So Dadson and Agarwal, with $5,000 in savings, decided to take the gamble themselves, assembling the dialysis unit for months on end in one another's home.

They displayed it at a dialysis trade show in San Francisco and the orders streamed in. Medionics International Inc. was born.

Since that fateful trade show, Medionics has become renowned for two more generations of peritoneal dialysis machines (where the blood is not removed for external cleansing as it is with hemodyalysis machines), and also for their patented dialysis accessories.

Their Microstar dialysis machine was the first on the market, in l983, to have an infection-warning alarm, and the portable Selectra dialysis machine, introduced in 1991, became the only machine which could perform all types of peritoneal dialysis in one unit.

Medionics's products are now in a dozen countries worldwide, Japan, Mexico and Italy being the largest buyers.

"Medionics beat them (other manufacturers) to the punch," says Sharon Izatt, Nurse Manager of the Toronto Hospital's Home Peritoneal Dialysis Unit, referring to Medionics's innovations. The hospital uses only Medionics machines.

"We have a good success record with Medionics. They're very aware of what the needs of the patient are, and if we make a recommendation, they move on it very quickly, unlike bigger companies which can take years." Izatt says.

The Selectra is Medionics's latest dialysis unit, created for the needs of the home or travelling patient. At only 11 kilograms, with one control button, the Selectra is the smallest and simplest periotoneal machine on the market. It is also the only machine which performs CAPD (continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis), increasingly popular in hospitals.

"The Selectra gives the patient an improved lifestyle," says Agarwal. "It's simple for the patient to use because they don't have to change the dialysis solution bags every four hours--the machine switches to the next bag automatically."

When Dadson and Agarwal spent several years designing their first machine, the PDC 1000, they figured that innovations to the machine could keep them busy for years to come. But the inefficiency of the existing tubing systems and connectors made them reconsider their plan.

So they sidetracked for a while, to build even better tubes and connectors, and also to enter uncharted territory with the invention of the Quick Connect (QC) disinfectant cap. Unbeknownst to them, this move would open a sea of opportunity in the dialysis world; with primarily the non-Canadian market buying their dialysis machines then as now), their innovations became the major source of their annual $5 million in revenue.

Not only had they branched into the manufacture and design of custom tubing systems, but the QC cap allowed patients, for the first time, to temporarily disconnect from their dialysis machine, to walk around. It also allowed hospitals to re-use the machine's tubing sets by attaching a QC cap to prevent infection.

Some hospitals request Medionics custom tubings to revamp their existing dialysis machines, while other hospitals will only buy another manufacturer's dialysis machine if Medionics tubings and QC caps are included in the deal.

Today, Medionics's manufacture and research facilities are housed in a 37,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Markham, where 45 full-time staff help to build and design the dialysis machines and accessories.

Although the company has won numerous awards, such as the Outstanding Business Achievement Award (1990, from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce), and the federal Gold Medal for Small Business (1987), only about 25% of their dialysis equipment sales are in Canada.

With top-of-the-line machines that costs almost half that of their competitors' machines ($3-5000), and with the shortage of dialysis machines in many Canadian hospitals, Dadson says that it would help both parties if hospitals bought Canadian.

"We could easily employ 250 people here if we were to get 50% of the market in Ontario alone," says Dadson. "I'm not saying that we'll eliminate all of the hospital's problems, but some of the problems won't be there."