New IBBME-led Company SpineSonics Medical Inc. spins towards commercialization

Ultrasound surgical navigation tool becomes the premier product of the student-led company

An Ultrasound navigational probe to aid in spinal surgeries is the driving force behind a new start-up company launched this week by 3 rd year PhD student Amir Manbachi , with the help of Professors Howard Ginsberg and Richard Cobbold : SpineSonics Medical Inc.

Just the latest entrepreneurial effort of an enterprising faculty–IBBME now counts 17 start ups by faculty and students—SpineSonics hopes to have a hit with its first product, the PedicProbe. And they may be well on their way: the team was recently awarded an Ontario Centres of Excellence “Market Readiness” grant of $50, 000 to help them move the PedicProbe to the next stage of commercialization.

Consisting of a sensor on the end of a surgical drill kit, the PedicProbe uses ultrasound technology to give surgeons a clearer picture during delicate operations where screws are inserted into vertebrae.

Traditionally, these screw placements are done by feel. “It’s a blind process,” says Professor Emeritus and former IBBME Director Richard Cobbold. And an alarmingly high rate of misplacement occurs during these operations–anywhere between 20 and 40 %–with a significant number of patients requiring follow up treatment.

The PedicProbe could prevent navigational errors and perhaps more importantly, significantly reduce recovery times from surgeries. Manbachi estimates that up to $200 M a year could be recouped by using the tiny probe.

“What is different here [with this ultrasound technology] is that we are navigating in bone. To the best of my knowledge this has not been done. Soft tissue is straight forward, but bone is a problem because it affects the ultrasound in a number of subtle ways. High frequencies get snuffed out, attenuated. So you have to go to much lower frequencies to get good penetration and good signals,” Cobbold explains.

The PedicProbe, though, has a number of attractive qualities that make it a good sell for the biomedical devices industry. It represents a cheap, portable, and safe alternatively to imaging, and without harmful radiation.

Spinal surgeons, who train between five and ten years to learn the proper screw angle and placement for these surgeries, may be able to use the tool for training. “If you can do this training under computer guidance, you can save an enormous amount of money just in training,” Cobbold remarks. Manbachi also envisions the PedicProbe being suitable to aid surgeries in less-privileged nations, or to aid in battlefield surgeries.

”The money [from the Market Readiness grant] will enable us to create a working prototype,” Manbachi says. Working at the new Sunnybrook Device Development lab, just opened this year, SpineSonics Medical Inc. hopes to have an industry-ready device ready within a year.

For his part, though, Manbachi is delighted to see the process moving ahead. “It’s a pleasure to think this could potentially be my job,” he says.

“Amir is the driving force behind this,” says Cobbold of his student, who interned on a related project with Stryker International in Germany last summer. “This technology will form a part of Amir’s thesis. He has the energy and initiative to move this ahead rapidly, which is good, because you need to get things into the market quickly.”

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