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Innovation
3 Entrepreneurs, 3 Big Ideas: Minimally Invasive Surgeries of the Future
Think big, design small. That’s the M.O. behind these innovations, which have the potential to improve the lives of millions of patients undergoing everything from spinal surgery to heart procedures.

magine a world in which women fighting breast cancer don’t have to suffer through the pain that often accompanies standard reconstructive surgery, and patients with faulty heart valves can have them repaired via just a 1-centimeter incision.

Remarkably, this could someday be possible, thanks to entrepreneurs who are reinventing the way these common medical procedures are performed through groundbreaking, minimally invasive inventions designed to reduce trauma, speed up recovery and, above all, enhance the lives of patients.

In conjunction with the grand opening of Johnson & Johnson’s Center for Device Innovation at Texas Medical Center this month, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices announced the winners of the CDI @ TMC QuickFire Challenge. The goal of the challenge: suss out early stage medical device innovators whose ideas have the potential to reshape how we approach oncology, cardiovascular or obesity-related surgeries.

More than 100 proposals from 13 countries poured in. Three companies were ultimately chosen to receive a total of $50,000 in grant money to help bring their passion projects to market. The grand prizewinner, LifeSprout, was also awarded a residency at JLABS @ TMC.

Read on to see how these game-changing innovations are poised to disrupt the medical field.



The Big Idea: Help Improve How Catheter-Based Heart Procedures Are Done

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Vivian de Ruijter, M.D., Co-founder, BaroStitch, San Francisco

Our winning innovation is ...
Major surgical heart operations have recently transitioned to less invasive catheter-based procedures that access the femoral artery, but they often require 4- or 5-inch-long incisions in the groin. With the minimally invasive BaroStitch, it can be done with just a small, 1-centimeter incision.

We got the idea from ...
As a Biodesign Fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine, I work on needs-based medical innovation. When I began the program in January 2017, I had to determine my focus area. I have a background in minimally invasive surgery, having spent two years at the European Institute for TeleSurgery while pursuing my M.D. During that time, I had seen firsthand some of the problems associated with femoral artery punctures, so I decided to do something about it.

We’re all strong proponents that patients should recover from illness as quickly as they can, so they can get home and get on with their lives. As clinical innovators our hope is to help push beyond what is expected, beyond the standard.

How the technology works ...
BaroStitch is a first-of-its-kind suture-based closure device that helps to quickly heal arteries after heart surgery, including femoral artery punctures. With BaroStitch, patients will have less pain, there will be less risk for infection and they’ll be able to go home a day earlier.

The grant will help our company ...
Test and validate our device design to help us achieve our next critical milestones before approaching our first clinical study in 2018.

Our driving philosophy is ...
Our team of clinicians and engineers have dedicated their lives to caring for patients—and we know how medical technology, particularly that which reduces the invasiveness of procedures, can positively impact patients’ lives. We’re all strong proponents that patients should recover from illness as quickly as they can, so they can get home and get on with their lives. As clinical innovators our hope is to help push beyond what is expected, beyond the standard.



The Big Idea: Help Improve Bone Growth After Spinal Surgery

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John Zellmer, Co-founder and CEO, Intelligent Implants, Cork, Ireland

Our winning innovation is ...
We at Intelligent Implants are among the first to develop smart implants with integrated electronics that have the potential to improve outcomes and lessen complications following spinal surgery by inducing bone growth, as well as sculpting and monitoring it in real time.

We got the idea from ...
My stepmother had six spinal surgeries. She had one incident of nonunion—when the bones of the spine fail to fuse correctly—and one heterotopic bone formation incident, where bone tissue formed outside of her skeleton. This has left her with permanent nerve damage that severely impacts her quality of life. After talking to patients and surgeons in Europe and the U.S., I learned that nonunions are a major challenge, so I hope our solution will minimize the risk of this happening and maximize the chances of a successful surgery and speedy recovery for future patients.

Something like this could affect hundreds of thousands of people every year. Our product can move the needle when it comes to implants, in general, because a lot of the innovation—especially in orthopedics—is very limited.

How the technology works ...
Studies have shown conclusively that electrical stimulation techniques can lead to bone cell proliferation. So using our engineering skills, we incorporated a miniature electrical stimulation device into the standard PEEK cages, which are biocompatible materials implanted as spacers between vertebrae during spinal surgery. The most important part of the system is that it can increase fusion rates significantly in a safe and controlled fashion, while also accelerating healing. We can also monitor the formation of bone in the fusion site, gather and organize the data we get from monitoring the fusion process, and present it to caregivers and patients in an attractive way.

The grant will help our company ...
Further develop our working prototype into a complete system that is ready for the clinic. The CDI @ TMC facility is equipped with a world-class workshop and some of the best medical device mentors around, like Dr. Billy Cohn William E. "Billy" Cohn, M.D.Vice President for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies and the Director of the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center, which is invaluable to us.

Our driving philosophy is ...
We hope to be able to make a big difference in many people’s lives. Something like this could affect hundreds of thousands of people every year. Our product can move the needle when it comes to implants, in general, because a lot of the innovation—especially in orthopedics—is very limited. We think this could be a significant leap, introducing electronics into the orthopedics business.



The Big Idea: A Potential Solution for Soft Tissue Loss

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Sashank Reddy, M.D., Ph.D., CEO, LifeSprout, Baltimore

Our winning innovation is ...
A synthetic product that looks and behaves just like living soft tissue that can be delivered in a minimally invasive way to help restore soft tissue loss. Every year, millions of patients experience soft tissue loss—whether they’ve gone through breast cancer surgery, have been injured in a car accident or have facial hollowing as a result of aging.

We got the idea from ...
Taking care of patients who suffer from soft tissue losses. Currently, these patients are subjected to invasive surgery to restore their appearance and function, which carries risks and imposes considerable costs and inconveniences, such as the downtime associated with recovery. I wanted to create a less invasive, cost-effective and safe way to bring them back to their best selves.

This award is a powerful validation of our efforts from one of the largest medical device companies in the world. It will help us transition the technology from the lab into clinical development.

How the technology works ...
At LifeSprout, we're developing a first-in-class, injectable nanofiber-hydrogel matrix that can immediately restore soft tissue volume that doesn't require surgery and promotes natural regeneration.

The grant will help our company ...
I am fortunate to work with an exceptional team. One thing I’ve loved about our journey is that, in working from the right motivation, we’ve been able to attract amazing people to help us on our way. This award is a powerful validation of our efforts from one of the largest medical device companies in the world. It will help us transition the technology from the lab into clinical development.

Our driving philosophy is ...
I want to do science that is impactful and that has real-world benefits. We feel that our platform technology has the potential to help a lot of people.


Want to Take Your Healthcare Innovation to NYC?
Enter your company into the JLABS @ NYC QuickFire Challenge and you could win a one-year residency at the new JLABS @ NYC.