John Tolley, February 28, 2017
Surgery these days is increasingly a matter of stealth operations, with doctors and nurses looking to enter, operate on and exit the body while causing as little trauma as possible.
To facilitate what is known as Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS), the tools of the trade have, of course, become smaller. But, this decrease in size has come at a cost - quite literally. Surgery-assisting robotic systems can run well into the millions, and more affordable options tend to be awkward to manipulate.
Now, a University of Michigan-based startup, FlexDex, is looking to change the face of MIS with the launch of its first product, a deceptively-simple, easy-to-use and affordable needle driver used to suture incisions within a patient's body.
"This is the culmination of 10 years of effort and to know that the device is performing exactly as we expected it would, impacting patients' lives in a positive way-it's an amazing feeling. We always saw the potential, but now it's crystallized," said FlexDex founder Jim Geiger, the Daniel H. Teitelbaum M.D. Collegiate Professor of Surgery at the U-M Medical School and pediatric surgeon at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, speaking to University of Michigan News.
Performing much like more expensive electronic surgical aids, the completely mechanical needle driver, which Geiger created with FlexDex cofounder and associate professor of mechanical engineering Shorya Awtar, fits over a surgeon's arm and its sensitive controls respond to the slightest movements of the wrist and hand.
"FlexDex provides the functionality of robots at the cost of traditional hand-held laparoscopic instruments. We've disrupted the paradigm where surgeons and hospitals had to choose between high cost/high function and low cost/low function," Awtar said. "Our mission is to democratize minimally invasive surgery and expand its use around the U.S. and the world."
Geiger and his Michigan Medicine colleagues tested the efficacy of their needle driver in a number of laparoscopic surgical procedures, from hernia repair to hysterectomies, in advance of the product rollout.
With their initial offering already shipping to hospitals in the US, FlexDex is set ramp up their innovation in the MIS field. The company has receive Series A and B funding and National Science Foundation SRIB grants to the tune of $10 million and plans to create a full line of mechanical surgical tools based on their needle driver's control platform.