Written by Seamus Kelleher.
Robots don’t just exist in the movies—these days, they’re everywhere from classrooms to factories to kitchens. They’re sent to space on exploration missions, used to assess and disarm dangerous explosives, or just to apply a new coat of paint to a car. The future is here, and as technology continues to advance, robotic applications will only expand. Xact Medical in Cincinnati, Ohio, is developing technology to bring the precision and automation of robotics into health facilities to improve patient outcomes.
“Robotics have come a long way in a short period of time,” said Andrew Cothrel, CEO of Xact Medical. “I think people are really recognizing the significant advantages robotic systems can have in complementing human activity, especially related to factors like precision and accuracy. We identified a process with a surprisingly high level of human error and shaped robotic technology around improving that.”
Xact Medical developed a needle-guiding system combining robotics with ultrasound technology. It enables healthcare professionals to correctly identify a blood vessel, and enter it with a needle on the first attempt. Described as a “sort of video game experience,” the FIND system—Fast Intelligent Needle Delivery—is operated using a joystick and a monitor displaying ultrasound imagery. Physicians, nurses or lab technicians simply guide a set of crosshairs on the screen to an easily-identifiable vascular entry point, choose an angle of entry for the needle, and press the button to begin.
The idea for Xact Medical’s technology was born from a sketch on a napkin during lunch in 2012 between Dr. Daniel von Allmen, surgeon in chief at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and Hugo Guterman, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ben Gurion University in Israel. The two shared a dissatisfaction that up to one-third of all central line placement attempts, i.e. attempts to place a catheter into a blood vessel, fail the first time. The two discussed ways to improve what can be an uncomfortable and time-consuming trial and error process involving needles, and over the next few years developed the FIND system.
“We see the potential for this technology to be immense—the FIND system is just one of many applications we hope to develop,” said Cothrel. “Our goal is to use technology to eliminate inefficiencies and improve patient outcomes in medical procedures, and free up time for healthcare professionals to focus on more critical care activities. We believe the same foundation for FIND can be extended to regional anesthesiology, biopsies and hopefully ultimately precision fluid injections and extractions.”
Xact Medical, formed jointly by Cincinnati Children’s and Ben Gurion University, is supported by CincyTech, a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. CincyTech has helped Xact structure its initial business plan and financial models, identify potential investors, provide office space, and finance the continued development of their innovative robotic technology.
“We would not be here if it weren’t for CincyTech. They provided us with the initial investment we needed to get off the ground, and believed in the technology and our team. The additional resources we received from them have been tremendous. I could have done some of these things myself, but it probably would have taken ten times longer,” Cothrel joked. “They’re not just willing to help – they’re very good at what they do. Having them in our corner continues to open doors for us.”