game-changing tech

New software for facial surgery developed at Houston hospital gets FDA approval

A software technology coming out of Houston Methodist is revolutionizing a particularly complex type of surgery. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

A new technology is helping Houston surgeons with a complicated surgery process — and the software recently got clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The AnatomicAligner, a software program designed to improve planning for craniomaxillofacial surgeries, was developed at Houston Methodist and was funded in part by Houston Methodist's Translational Research Initiative, which is a fund that's dedicating $30 million to product development of promising medical technologies.

The hospital received FDA clearance to market the software, making Houston Methodist a member of an elite group of academic medical centers with an approved medical technology ready for market access, according to a news release.

The technology was developed by Dr. James Xia, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, and Dr. Jaime Gateno, chair of the Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery and professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

The AnatomicAligner uses computer graphics and modeling technologies to simulate the entire surgery artificially with a goal of allowing surgeons to practice and plan their technique. In addition to TRI funding, Xia and Gateno also received nearly $10 million in funding from the National Institute of Craniofacial and Dental Research, per the release, to develop the methodology and the AnatomicAligner software system.

Craniomaxillofacial surgeries correct congenital and acquired deformities of the skull and face — including those acquired from trauma or congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip and palate.

"Due to the complex nature of the CMF skeleton, it requires extensive presurgical planning," write the researchers in a description of the technology. "Unfortunately, the traditional planning methods, e.g. prediction tracings and simulating surgery on stone models have remained unchanged over the last 50 years."

The researchers have plans to share their findings in order to improve CMF — as well as other orthopedic surgeries — for the world.

"The success of AnatomicAligner will lead to a new class of imaging informatics platform for CMF surgery. This platform can also be transformed to orthopedic surgery and other medical specialties," the description continues. "Once completed, the software will be freely downloaded from internet by research community.

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Building Houston

 
 

These three startups walked away from a pitch competition with thousands of dollars in equity-free prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Three startups founded by Rice University graduates have won investment prizes at an annual pitch competition.

The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, or NRLC, welcomed a panel of judges to hear from six alumni-founded startups in the finals last week. The prizes on the line totaled $65,000 in equity-free funding. The event, which is separate from the student version of the competition, is hosted by Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The big winner of the 2022 competition was Rhythio Medical, a preventative heart arrhythmias treatment startup. The company won first place, which included $30,000 in equity-free funding, as well as the Audience Choice Award that came with $1,500.

Taking second place, Synopic, which facilitates faster and more accurate surgical procedures through improved endoscopic vision technology, won $20,000 in equity-free funding. Lastly, Green Room, a platform that streamlines taxes and payments for touring artists, clinched third place and $15,000.

The event, named for Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures. This year's finalists were selected by judges made up of Rice alumni. Three judges — Danielle Conkling, director at Silicon Valley Bank, Paul Manwell, senior director at Google, and Joanna Nathan, manager of new ventures at Johnson & Johnson — listened to and evaluated each company's five-minute pitch and followed up with questions.

Rhythio Medical was founded by CEO Kunal Shah, class of 2022, and Savannah Esteve, who also serves as head of product. The technology includes a surgically injected wire that makes an irregular heart work like a healthy one. It works alongside a traditional implantable cardioverter defibrillator, however, the wire but works to prevent arrhythmias, while ICDs treat arrhythmias with a painful shock to the patient’s heart. The company lists the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Texas at Austin as its research partners.

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