Cisco Systems Inc. has added an eighth research chair in technology at a Canadian university.

The company said Tuesday it is providing $20 million over 10 years to the University of Alberta for a research chair in healthcare solutions.

It will be held by Pierre Boulanger of UofA’s department of computing science. According to a news release, he will create a research and development program that will lead to new solutions for health care.

A doctor of electrical engineering, Boulanger said in an interview that the money will go to three projects he is working on:

–a system for connecting smart phones to medical equipment like heart, oxygen or glucose monitors connected to patients in remote areas where medical doctors are sparce. A software agent on the handset analyzes the data and tells the patient to see a physician, or sends an alert;

–creating a “patient-specific model” of a wide range of digital imagery such as x-rays and cat-scans that can be used to plan surgery;

–and a long-term project on a video communications system that better allows doctors to perform surgery across long distances or do distant training.

“One of the reasons surgeons do not move to small towns is most will require about 10 years to skill set level sufficient to be able to operate on their own,” Boulanger said. “If they move to a small town they might to a procedure once a month … The idea is to bring skill sets to surgeons in smaller towns so they can keep their skill level up.”

Boulanger said there was a competition for the research chair, with several UofA health care staffers applying for the honour.

Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] is also funding research at McMaster University, the University of Regina, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Winnipeg, Laval University, the University of Waterloo and the University of Saskatchewan.

The health care sector is a great consumer of technology. Hospitals across the country are converting paper files and imaging to digital, installing Wi-Fi networks to allow medical staff to use wireless devices and experimenting with telemedicine.

Cisco Canada president Nitin Kawale said that the company wants to build collaborative partnerships with universities as well as governments and organizations to help foster innovation increase productivity and support economic development. “The establishment of this chair is part of a long-term plan to explore the significant role technology can play in improving productivity and health-care service delivery,” he said.

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