From Lightbulbs to Microsurgery
The Eindhoven region of the Netherlands has always been the centre of high-tech research, development and manufacture. We believe we’re witnessing the next phase in “open innovation”; a term pioneered in the 1950’s at Philips. Essentially it means "innovating with partners by sharing risk and sharing reward”.
Top global University research centres like TU/e work because the gates are always open. High fences around research facilities prevent possible partners from looking in. But they also make it difficult for academics and researchers to look outside. That can be fatal when you’re competing with rival companies that are collaborating, not only with each other but with their customers. It leads to tunnel vision and a self-congratulatory culture.
Encouraging Collaborative Innovation
Several corporations and recent spinouts have established Eindhoven as leading the world when it comes to being innovative and inventive. But the Eindhoven region is now encouraging a start-up climate in which there is a healthy balance between exploration and exploitation. MRT BV is playing an important role in this.
As well as research and development, great inventions need to have sufficient time, assistance and funds to scale-up and reach a global market. A diversity of investors and founders is needed, to boost what is already here and attract new young companies to the South-Eastern part of the Netherlands.
Room to grow and breathe
Independent evidence is emerging to support this approach. Recent findings on collaborative innovation from the World Economic Forum states that universities, corporates and startups need to cooperate much more for Europe to improve its competitiveness. We have clearly made a start. But innovation has no expiration date.
Microsure is Investor Ready
Part of the understanding that we've developed in designing for "stiffness" (as it's known in the trade) is linked to thinking about the degrees of freedom of a mechanism, its thermal centre, symmetry, and flexures. A lot of this originated in the process Philips was building in the 1950's so they could build factory lines to make incandescent light bulbs. And as technology progressed, the same knowledge with enhanced accuracy found its way into lasers for CD players, silicon chip design and manufacture, and so the list goes on. We're convinced, but also surprised, that the world has taken so long to apply this knowledge to medical-surgical robotics.
Our work on a slave robot designed to assist eye surgeons (Preceyes) has demonstrated our core competency in medical robotics. It has attracted interest from other parts of the medical profession. We were able to adapt ideas in the previous prototype, but then focus on the need for accuracy and scaling in such a delicate operation.
Below are more details of the Microsure story so far.
The GRAND CHALLENGE
Microsurgery is an area of healthcare which operates on the edge of what is physically possible. By visiting and talking to microsurgeons, the Microsure team began to understand the specific challenges facing those performing reconstructive surgery. We adapted designs and experience gained from previous medical-robotic prototypes to design a dedicated machine with the required workflow demanded by the microsurgeon.
The result is the MicroSure system currently going through extensive clinical trials as an investigational device. We are exploring ways to make operations faster, more accurate and yet easier to perform. And the assistance the MicroSure Stabilizer System gives the microsurgeon provides for much better and more consistent surgical outcomes. We believe it will extend the lifespan of a surgeon's career as well as allowing the development of new surgical procedures that are currently unavailable.
CASE : ARRIVAL OF THE PLASTIC SURGEONS
We've also been approached by a plastic surgeon from Maastricht. He works on the micro-level - reattaching fingers that have been severed from the hand. They also take tissue from one part of the body and use it to reconstruct a breast after invasive surgery. In both cases, they need to reconnect arteries and veins. They each have a diameter of around 2 mm. The surgeon has to put eight stitches around the circumference of these arteries and veins.
Typically, it takes two microsurgeons two-and-a-half hours to connect two veins - this is the textbook definition of incredibly difficult work. If they have just one leak, the consequences are dramatic for the patient.
They have continuously tried to improve the speed and accuracy of these operation by using the DaVinci machine, built by the US company Intuitive Surgical. But it didn't work because the machine isn't accurate enough.
So they approached MRT at Eindhoven Technical University and now a small team of brilliant Ph.D. students has adapted the design to make a medical robot for microsurgery. The robot is currently undergoing extensive trials at a hospital in Maastricht. We're capturing a lot of useful data which we can use to further improve both the accuracy and speed of the system. Microsure is now investor ready.
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