Drilling in Bones: For trauma and orthopedic surgeons it is a daily routine. They fasten titanium plates with screws to repair complicated fractures. Out of frustration with the cumbersome and error-prone way in which this is done now, a trauma surgeon consulted two technicians.
Not much later they were joined by an economist and founded SLAM Ortho, a company that develops precise measuring equipment to optimize bone drilling. The plan is to start a test project at the Medical Delta Living Lab Research OK as soon as there is capacity for this after the corona crisis.
Currently, surgeons manually measure the depth of the drilled holes in bones using a type of hook. Depending on the measured depth, they use a matching screw. A time-consuming job that is also prone to errors: in 8% of cases, it turns out that too large or too small a screw was used afterwards. With an average of eight holes per operation, there is a good chance that things will not go right immediately.
To prevent this, X-rays are taken during operations. Any errors can therefore be repaired during the operation, but this is not always immediately visible. If later turns out the wrong screws are used in an operation, a second operation is sometimes necessary. Initially, this is especially annoying for the patient, but also for the surgeon. Moreover, it leads to extra healthcare costs and extra pressure on the already overcrowded operating rooms.
As an orthopedic surgeon, Bas de Hartog presented this problem to Just Schornagel and Bart Kölling, two technicians with a background at TU Delft. Economist Job Komen also joined this small but decisive team. In a short time they founded SLAM Ortho, a company that develops a sensor that can be mounted on an existing drill. The sensor technology measures the depth of the hole to the millimeter during drilling, so that the surgeon selects the right screw with much more certainty. In time, the data can also provide insight into the strength of the bone. This allows a surgeon to determine much more precisely what is needed to properly fix the bone.
Across the board, you notice that care and technology are increasingly seeking each other out
With De Hartog, SLAM Ortho has a surgeon on board who draws directly from his own experience. The applicability of the solution is thereby guaranteed. "From the start, our focus has been on the applicability of the technology," says Just Schornagel. “In addition to Bas, we are in constant dialogue with surgeons; we develop the product together with them.”
The SLAM Ortho team therefore knows from experience that technical applications often solve a problem, but at the same time can create new obstacles because they prove very difficult to apply for surgeons without a technical background in daily practice. They want to overcome that with their approach.
The road to the market is extra difficult for care technological innovations, SLAM Ortho experienced like many others. After a promising start, many great concepts fail in the test phase. "We are now in the middle of it and notice how difficult it is to find investors at this stage," says Schornagel. After the first promising tests with a prototype, a patent was applied for and granted. However, further testing is required for further development and ultimately also the required certification. “Most investors want to see these comprehensive test results before investing, which makes sense. In addition, extensive scientific evidence is required to market an instrument used for operations.”
That is why SLAM Ortho wants to take follow-up steps within the Medical Delta Living Lab Research OK with surgeons from the Renier de Graaf Gasthuis. They want to apply for a test voucher from the Innovation Program ZorgTech. “That could be a huge step for us to bridge this difficult development phase. We can then involve investors and develop a market-ready product.”
SLAM has recently established itself in the collective of YES! Delft, alongside other technological startups. That also helps the company further. “There is a real start-up atmosphere in which people want to help each other and share experiences. That has already helped us on our way several times.”
The Medical Delta region is ideal for a health & technology company such as SLAM Ortho. Hospitals such as Reinier de Graaf, Erasmus MC and LUMC are nearby and relatively easy to reach. Also, the innovative power of TU Delft is present. "Across the board, you notice that care and technology are increasingly seeking each other out. Here in the region they already know where to find each other and we use that.”