Startup developing mixed-reality platform for surgeons
September 29, 2022
MONTREAL – An interdisciplinary startup at McGill University is leveraging their combined expertise to develop Holo-Ray, an integrated, cloud-based platform that will allow surgeons to quickly generate 3D holographic anatomical models from a patient’s diagnostic imaging scans.
This immersive mixed-reality technology will be used for education, diagnosis and treatment planning for minimally invasive interventional procedures. At the moment, the team is focusing on the cardiovascular system, but this technology has the potential to be used on different anatomical structures.
One of the three co-founders and chief medical officer at Holo-Ray is Dr. Renzo Cecere, a heart surgeon renowned for his expertise in novel cardiac assistive devices. He is associate professor in the Department of Surgery at McGill University and director of Cardiac Surgery at the McGill University Health Centre.
When we met, Dr. Cecere had just spent the morning performing a full sternotomy. This procedure involves cutting through a patient’s breastbone and opening up the rib cage to provide access and visibility to the patient’s heart and nearby organs. However, as he explains, the current trend is to minimize the open surgical approach in cardiology, as these large incisions have a higher risk of complications and longer recovery times.
When possible, surgeons perform minimally-invasive interventional procedures that involve inserting a catheter through the various access points in the body to get to the heart, relying on medical imaging to provide visual guidance.
“But you have to first and foremost do a perfect job,” said Dr. Cecere. “To gain the advantage of a catheter-based approach, you have to see what you’re doing. Remember, the heart is inside the body; it is a moving structure that’s filled with blood, so you can’t just insert a camera and look at it. If we rely on the old-fashioned radiographic images, we’re very limited in what we can do with catheters because we can’t really see well enough. We need special modalities for imaging. We need to have artificial eyes to show us what’s going on inside.”
Hence the impetus for Holo-Ray, a cloud-based platform that uses advanced software and holographic imaging to quickly reconstruct CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans in various ways.
“Holo-Ray is exciting because it will provide more realistic perception for surgeons. It uses new technology to sort of fool the imaging into seeing the real thing. We can move catheters around inside the heart and visualize angles that weren’t approachable before, aided by robotics and mechatronics. We are then able to train these catheters, using deep learning artificial intelligence algorithms, so that the more the catheter does, the better it gets at going to where it wants to go and the less room for human error,” said Dr. Cecere.
The company plans to use this platform for educational purposes, to augment surgical training by providing access to a database of 3D holograms constructed from real patient pathologies and complex anatomical structures, securely protected and anonymized using HIPAA-compliant encryption.
Holo-Ray’s co-founders attribute the successful development of this novel concept to interdisciplinary collaboration between medicine and engineering, along with strong institutional support and encouragement.
The chief technology officer at Holo-Ray is Amir Hooshiar, PhD, a mechanical engineer with expertise in biomedical devices and surgical robotics whose doctoral studies focused on haptics-enabled, robot-assisted surgical systems for cardiovascular intervention. He joined McGill in June 2021 to lead the development of the new Surgical Robotics Centre.
“McGill’s Department of Surgery has prioritized this surgical robotics initiative because it’s moving very fast in the world, and we want to keep up the pace. This is very meaningful to me,” said Mr. Hooshiar, who is eager to build this new centre of excellence that will bring together interdisciplinary teams to foster innovation.
Shortly after joining McGill, Mr. Hooshiar and Dr. Cecere crossed paths and quickly discovered a shared common interest. They formed a close collaboration and established a new research program that addresses needs in the area of cardiovascular surgery, medicine and robotics.
Amir Sayadi, a recent graduate of the McGill Experimental Surgery Program, was recruited as the research program’s first PhD student. As the third co-founder and chief executive officer at Holo-Ray, Mr. Sayadi has a background in mechanical engineering with considerable experience in surgical robotics, mixed reality and medical software development.
As winners of the Marika Zelenka Roy Simnovation Prize, offered in partnership with the Montreal General Hospital Foundation at the 2022 McGill Clinical Innovation Competition, Holo-Ray is using their cash award and credits to help support the development of this innovative project. In the coming months, they will move forward with proof-of-concept research studies, and will be raising seed money to support Holo-Ray’s continued growth.
Diane Lynn Weidner is Communication and Events Officer, at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.