(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles profiling some of the companies involved in the 2014 “GIGTANK” hosted by Chattanooga’s “CO.LAB.” All of the companies make their pitches on July 29 at “Demo Day.” To register, click.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Anyone who is waiting for serious surgery wants the surgical team to have as much training and preparation as possible.
That’s exactly where 3DOps, a company participating in Chattanooga’s “GIGTANK,” plays.
“It’s patient specific anatomical modeling,” Clay Posey told us during a recent visit to CO.LAB, where the “GIGTANK” teams are working this summer. In this instance, the new start-up is leveraging the rapidly emerging area of 3D printing.
The long-time business development professional is working with Daniel Hampton, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, to launch the start-up. It is not the latter’s first effort in this space.
Posey says Hampton developed a way to mold a patient’s knee to help surgeons prepare for knee replacement surgery. What makes the latest effort so unique is how it leverages 3D printing technology.
“We take an MRI (magnetic resonance image) and turn it into a 3D model of the patient’s brain in a material that feels like the tissue of the brain,” Posey explains. “The surgeons can perform a test run, making sure they don’t create a problem while trying to solve one.”
He says that the technology is applicable for surgeries on critical organs like the brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys.
“As long as we can get a scan, we can print it,” Posey added.
The 3D printing technology also allows for unique options such as printing the lungs of a patient in one color and a tumor in the lungs in a different color to aid the preparation of the pulmonary surgeon.
Early reception is strong, Posey said. “Physicians who have used it are all over it.” One reason he cites is the fact that 3D visualization on a screen is not the same as a 3D model.
Posey acknowledges that “speed to market” is a key for 3DOps. There is nothing to patent, but the current less desirable options for surgeons take weeks to provide while the Chattanooga start-up can deliver a 3D-printed model in hours.
During our interview, Posey said a heart was printing in the next room, and a brain would print overnight. The printing of a heart is a 21-hour process, although the technology is rapidly changing.
Because of similar products and processes, it appears that 3DOps is only required to register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. The software that it uses is already approved, and there is no contact between the product and the patient.
The company hopes to move to a pilot study within the month, secure feedback from participating surgeons, and launch later this year.
“We’re on the radar with big providers,” Posey says. The advantages – improved patient outcomes, reduced risks, and fewer readmissions – are features that should attract insurance companies, hospitals and physicians.
“It’s fascinating, and I hope transformative,” Posey says.