Written by Kevin Volz.
Brain surgeons depend on screens in the operating room to visualize the microscopic procedures they’re performing on patients. In most cases, the images on the screens are difficult to see, black and white and two-dimensional. Without clearly seeing what’s in and around the area of the brain they’re operating on, they may miss the best approach to saving a patient’s life. Surgical Theater in Mayfield Village, Ohio, has developed accurate, three-dimensional images of patients’ brains to help surgeons plan and execute surgeries in a new way. The company’s latest development connects a virtual reality headset to their system to be available to surgeons in the OR.
“When a surgeon wears the headset, they can virtually go inside the brain and look around. They can position themselves between the blood vessel and the nerves and see all the tissue they need to understand during surgery,” said Alon Geri, co-founder and executive vice president of engineering for Surgical Theater. “This gives surgeons great insight, and their readiness and confidence reach a whole new level.”
The system uses multiple patient brain scans to construct a 3D model showing a complete picture of the brain. This model is then used throughout the treatment process. The doctor uses it to show their patient exactly what will be done during a procedure, and to prepare and practice prior to surgery. The surgeon then uses the virtual reality headset in the OR to explore their next steps before making delicate moves in the brain. Following the procedure, the model can be used for educational purposes to advance the field of neurosurgery.
“It’s reducing risks once they open the skull,” said Geri. “In one case, a surgeon thought it would be best to go in above the eye to get to a very large tumor. When he saw it on our system, he realized that he would only get to 30 or 40 percent of the tumor. If he used a different approach, he could remove the whole tumor and greatly increase the patient’s odds of survival.”
Geri and his business partner Moty Avisar never thought they’d be breaking ground in the medical field. They were both officers in the Israeli Air Force, assigned to design a flight simulator to train fighter pilots. They were stationed in the Cleveland area in 2005 when they met Dr. Warren Selman, Chief Neurosurgeon at University Hospitals. Dr. Selman asked them if they could design something similar to their flight simulation technology for brain surgery. After retiring from the Air Force, they returned to Cleveland to start Surgical Theater and make the technology a reality.
Surgical Theater received $100,000 in funding from the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), a northeast Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier. GLIDE also provided business guidance to market their product and get it into more hospitals. Surgical Theater’s technology was cleared by the FDA in 2014, and is being used daily in major medical centers across the country, including UCLA Health, Mount Sinai and NYU in New York City, and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
The company has grown from eight to 30 employees in the last year and a half, and they continue to expand their sales efforts while advancing the virtual reality technology. Geri says northeast Ohio is the perfect place to start their business because of the area’s robust medical community and the way the community embraces and supports innovation.
“Everyone came from totally different backgrounds, but they still embraced the idea and helped us reach our goals,” said Geri, “Having those connections to walk us through the FDA process and connect us to a local patent attorney helped make our dream a viable business.”