The current device that inflates the abdomen during minimal access surgery is like a car with a gas pedal, but without a speedometer. With this example, pediatric surgeon John Vlot of Erasmus MC Sophia outlines the problem he wants to solve with a team of experts.
During minimal access surgery, Vlot operates the insufflator, as the abdominal inflation device is called. ‘As a surgeon, you prefer to set the pressure as high as possible, because it provides a lot of space to work in’, says Vlot. For the anesthesiologist, it is the other way around: high pressure causes problems with ventilation and blood circulation. In addition, high pressure often causes pain after surgery, and can even lead to organ damage.
But what is the optimal pressure? This cannot be determined with the current generation of devices. Vlot: ‘You set a pressure in advance, based on experience, without additional information.’ Hence the comparison with the car without a speedometer.
The lower, the better
Several studies have shown that the optimal pressure is different for each patient. Just think of the difference between a newborn and an overweight adult. One thing is certain, the lower the pressure, the better.
Ph.D. students Willem van Weteringen and Frank Sterke, in collaboration with Raffaele Dellaca of the TechRes Lab at the Technical University of Milan (Politecnico di Milano), developed a smarter insufflator. Smart technology enables the new device to substantially reduce the disruption of ventilation and circulation, and is able to determine the safe limits for each individual patient.
After the prototype has been extensively tested, it is time for the next step: bringing the new device to the patient. Already during the development of the prototype, Vlot, Sterke, and Van Weteringen were supported by the Technology Transfer Office of Erasmus MC. They filed three patents to protect the technologies behind the insufflator and support further commercialization of the device.
New partners came on board: venture capital funds Swanbridge Capital and Van Herk Groep, together with Willem Mees van der Bijl of IDE Group. The latter company has expertise in the design, development, production, and preparation of medical products for the market. ‘The perfect partner to take this to the next level’, says Siyar Kisin, Business Development Manager at the Technology Transfer Office.
With the support of the Technology Transfer Office, the partners started a spin-off company that will bring the new generation of insufflators to operating theatres nationally and internationally. The company called Spatium Medical is one of the first residents of the future Erasmus MC Campus, the place where healthcare, technology, and entrepreneurship come together.
Bridging the gap from scientific research to a marketable product is difficult. The first challenge for Spatium Medical is to demonstrate the benefits for patients. Is the new device safe and better than the current device? In addition, issues about cost price and user-friendliness follow. Van der Bijl, CEO of Spatium Medical: ‘This requires a multidisciplinary approach. We have a lot of confidence because everyone in the team transcends their own background.’