3:40pm

Thu July 25, 2013
Science

3D imaging could cut health care costs

Upstate company Qmetrics has developed technology that can take medical images like MRIs and turn them into a three-dimensional image or model.

The technology has implications for lowering health care costs and increasing patient-specific treatments.

While X-rays and MRIs can be useful, surgery is still frequently required to look inside a joint, explains Qmetrics CEO Edward Schreyer. For example, keyhole surgery or arthroscopy is still used to see the extent of a knee injury.

And that’s all before you find out if surgery is even necessary to repair the damage.

Schreyer says his company’s technology could minimize the need for those sorts of procedures.

“The problem has always been that in order to take the medical image and turn it into a 3D model, it requires hours of expert labor to trace the borders, the boundaries of all the different tissues, bones and cartilage, ligaments, meniscus etc. And with Qmetrics we’ve been able to generate software that will do this automatically.”

Schreyer says their technology has made the process fast, efficient and accurate enough that it could be incorporated into routine patient care.

“We can take the medical image, provide three-dimensional models, pictures for the surgeon and they use that in the same way that they would obtain information from a diagnostic arthroscopy. So there is the potential that what we do could reduce the number of times a surgeon has to perform surgery primarily to look inside a joint and figure out what’s wrong.”

Prevention

Schreyer says the use of 3D imaging could also help surgeons identify preventative measures so patients don’t need a joint replacement in the long term.

He says this would lower the cost of health care and allow doctors to explain the need for any surgery to patients and insurance companies more effectively.

“If we can apply that more efficiently, I think in a global sense that will help to spread out health care costs.”

Schreyer says they’ve had positive feedback from patients and surgeons so far, although some of it has been a little unexpected.

“We’ve interestingly heard from patients that they would be interested in just a physical model of their own joint, maybe as a souvenir from their ski injury,” he says.

But the technology has other applications besides the potential for creating medical keepsakes. It also gives medical device companies the ability to use the 3D images to make customized surgical tools and joints that match the anatomy of the individual patient.

Patient-specific medicine

Schreyer says Qmetrics is in talks with several major medical device companies, and the idea of having custom-made joints is close to becoming a reality for patients.

“There have been veterinary applications of this where large companion animals have been scanned and for an animal that has perhaps, degenerative hip disease, a new hip joint can be fabricated from that animal’s medical images,” he says.

“So this technically is feasible for patients but there’s the whole medical review process, the FDA clearance process to consider. But it is possible, the technology does exist to be able to take an image of a patient and use that data to generate something that is completely customized and matched to their anatomy.”

Qmetrics is hoping to submit for FDA clearance for their imaging technology by the end of the year.

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