AI software assists in planning reconstructive surgery
Medtech start-up Inzipio signs two license agreements to bring software for automated planning of reconstruction surgeries into market
Alan Mertens, Innovation Manager at RWTH Innovation, is pleased. “We have been working with this team and on this contract for quite a while, and it’s great to see, which way this technology is evolving. This is a perfect example of how interdisciplinary collaboration works at RWTH”, he explains. “The combination of medicine, engineering and computer science has resulted in an outstanding technology.”
A team of engineers, researchers and surgeons around Prof. Frank Hölzle, Director of the Clinic for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen decided to spin out the scientific results of their research project Innosurge AC into the start-up Inzipio which recently has been founded. Now, the young spin-off signed two license agreements with RWTH Aachen University, to drive forward their emerging technology to industrial application.
The current outsourcing of preoperative virtual planning costs time and money
The research team developed a medical software that allows the automated planning of facial reconstruction surgeries. Such operations are necessary for patients who, for example, have to have part of their jaw removed because of a tumor. For reconstruction, a bone graft from the patient's own body is used, for instance from the fibula. These reconstructive surgeries are complex and require detailed and precise preoperative planning in order to implement the desired graft design intraoperatively, as the graft must be customized for each patient. There are software applications on the market that support the preoperative virtual surgical planning but those are complicated, difficult to apply and automation is not possible. This is why surgeons hardly use these programs themselves but instead rely on external service providers to carry out the complex planning process for them. However, the coordination with the service providers tends to be tedious, expensive and time-consuming since the results often don’t meet the surgeon’s expectations.
“Things get lost in translation” Thomas Roth, one of the founders of Inzipio, explains the problem. “The physician has a demand or an expectation, which cannot always be fulfilled by the service provider. This often leads to further communication and rework, causing extra costs and delaying the process.”
AI supports preoperative planning of reconstructive surgeries
The researchers of Inzipio are developing the solution to these problems. Their patented technology enables automated surgical planning so that the preoperative planning process can be carried out by the surgeons themselves. As a result, they no longer depend on external service providers. With the help of an AI that was trained on numerous CT-imaging data, patient individual extraction of three-dimensional geometries of anatomical structures is feasible in a fast and reproducible manner. Subsequently, the algorithm automatically generates an optimized surgical proposal of the graft for each individual patient which is proposed to the surgeon and can be modified if necessary. The preoperative, virtual planning can then be transferred precisely to the operating room in the form of 3D-printed cutting guides. The automated, intelligent planning and easy handling of the innovative software enables surgeons to plan surgeries quickly and optimized individually for each patient, thus saving a lot of time and money. Even complex and challenging surgeries can be planned in a robust and reproducible way. Consequently, planning time can be reduced from several hours to less than 15 minutes, and surgeons save up to 90% of their time. Patients also benefit from the solution since they receive an individually optimized transplant.
From InnoSurge AC to Inzipio
The story of the young start-up Inzipio started in 2013, when Stefan Raith, a mechanical engineer, moved from Munich to Aachen to work with Frank Hölzle at the Clinic for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery of Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. With a team of engineers and surgeons, together with Ali Modabber and Tobias Pankert, he developed innovative software for automated surgical planning with its findings evolving into the research project Innosurge AC. They filed a patent for the technology at the end of 2018; international patents followed. In 2019 the team was funded with the EXIST Transfer of Research by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. Along with the support of the RWTH Incubation Program, the team advanced the development of a marketable software as well as the corresponding commercialization.
“The training sessions and workshops within the Incubation Program have helped us a lot. On top, we were able to expand our network and make important new contacts”, says Thomas Roth, who was brought into the team to support the spin-off project with his business expertise.
After having participated in the Incubation Program in 2020, the team ranked 1st in the AC²- start-up competition by GründerRegion Aachen in 2021 and successfully completed their EXIST grant project before their spin-off Inzipio GmbH was founded in February 2022. The team just moved into their new offices at the Collective Incubator, the co-working hotspot for young start-ups in Aachen.
Accessible for all surgeons one day
Because of the modular structure of the software, the technology can be adapted to other medical disciplines such as neurosurgery, plastic surgery or orthopedics in the near future.
“One day we want to enable physicians worldwide to plan and perform complex surgeries on their own," Roth says ambitiously. “But first we have to learn to stand on our feet, then learn to run and fly.”
As a next step, the software has to get approved as a medical device. So far, a prototype of the program is being tested in preclinical trials at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen.
Find out more here: www.inzipio-medical.com