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turned the company’s conventional MRI scans into multi-dimensional displays:
Say a patient suffers from symptoms of heart disease (but not an immediate crisis condition such as a heart attack.) A cardiologist suspects that one of the patient’s heart valves is worn out or malformed. As the heart beats, driving blood from one chamber to the next, the valves are supposed to close up fully and prevent blood from leaking back into the heart chamber it just left. The valves then reopen to let the next surge of blood come through.
Current imaging tools such as echocardiogram/ultrasound and MRI can help doctors peer into the structure of the heart and assess the condition of the valves. But Beckers says it can still be hard to tell just how leaky a valve is. That means a doctor has to make a difficult call: either send the patient for invasive heart surgery, with its significant risks, or try to manage the condition with drugs, which may not be enough if the valve problem turns out to be worse than expected.
With the technology now in use, physicians do their best to guide an MRI technician to capture 2D cross-section images of the planes of the heart where the suspected faulty valve resides. The process, which can take as long as 90 minutes, can be stressful for sick patients, who may be asked to stay still and hold their breath repeatedly, Beckers says.
In addition to spending time guiding the MRI scan, doctors must interpret the images—literally drawing on the scans to outline the contours of the heart muscle, GE Healthcare cardiac MRI leader Anja Brau says. They then use software to calculate blood flow through the heart chambers, valves, and vessels.
GE Healthcare wanted to provide doctors with more complete, three-dimensional data, not only of the whole cardiovascular structure, but also on the flow of blood over time. This kind of imaging is called 4D flow. The data is collected for three spatial dimensions, along with a fourth dimension—time. The company also wanted to speed up the data capture, to save time for the doctor, the technician, and the patient, as well as minimizing time on the scanner. It reduced the exam time to about 10 minutes, and patients don’t need to hold their breath.
Not to get too technical, but GE Healthcare made these advances by re-programming the sequence of radiofrequency pulses aimed at the chest during an MRI scan. This is a common method of tailoring the performance of medical imaging equipment for specific diagnostic purposes.
What GE Healthcare’s efforts yielded was a stack of many 2D slices (or planes) of the full chest, including the heart. But physicians would still have to pore through all those layers to find the suspected heart defect. Then Albert Hsiao, a Stanford clinician with software experience, worked up a prototype graphics program to assemble all those 2D slices into a 3D volume that could show the blood flow in the beating heart. Hsiao demonstrated it to Brau in a basement lab at Stanford’s hospital.
“That was the beginning,” Brau says.
The idea led to the founding of Arterys in 2011 by Hsiao, Beckers, Axerio-Cilies, and Stanford radiology professor Shreyas Vasanawala, co-director of MRI at Stanford University. Hsiao is now Associate Director of Cardiovascular Diseases for the Center for Translational Imaging and Personalized Medicine at UC San Diego.
In addition to its work constructing 3D images from MRI data, Arterys also developed software to protect patients’ privacy by stripping their personal identifying information from the scanner files before they are uploaded to the cloud.
In March, GE’s corporate venture capital arm GE Ventures was one of the investors joining in Arterys’s $12 million Series A financing round. The round was led by Emergent Medical Partners, with participation from the Stanford-StartX Fund, Norwich Ventures, and prior investors Asset Management Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, and Morado Ventures. The new capital followed a $2 million seed funding round.
Arterys stands to receive licensing revenue from GE Healthcare, which is acting as the startup’s distributor for the use of its technology in the ViosWorks cardiac MRI system.
German industrial giant Siemens, a major competitor with GE Healthcare in MRI, does not have a 4D flow MRI system on the market, a Siemens spokeswoman says. But such a system is in the works, she says.
Stahre wasn’t specific about the pricetag for adopting the new MRI system, besides describing it as “cost-effective.”
“We’re trying to make it available to any patient around the world,” Stahre says.
Insurers reimburse hospitals for conventional MRI scans at a fixed rate, even though some scans take longer than others, Brau says. GE Healthcare doesn’t say whether it would seek a higher payment amount for ViosWorks scans. But the company makes a case that hospitals would save money by using the company’s faster scans and its automated analysis.
With ViosWorks exams taking as little as 30 minutes for the set-up time and scan, rather than as much as 90 minutes for conventional MRIs, medical centers could examine more patients per day with the same scanner, the company maintains. Doctors wouldn’t need to spend time … Next Page »