Digital Surgery, a health tech startup based in London, today launched what it’s calling the world’s first dynamic artificial intelligence (AI) system designed for the operating room. The reference tool helps support surgical teams through complex medical procedures — cofounder and former plastic surgeon Jean Nehme described it as a “Google Maps” for surgery.
“What we’ve done is applied artificial intelligence … to procedures … created with surgeons globally,” he told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We’re leveraging data with machine learning to build a [predictive] system.”
Well-funded hospital systems have shown an interest in automation. A third in the U.S. have at least one surgical robot, and others are testing solutions from autonomous anesthesiologists to patient-scheduling algorithms.
But Digital Surgery’s AI system is also aimed at the estimated 5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to safe surgical care, Nehme said. “We’re focused on delivering technology solutions that are affordable … and scalable for hospital systems.”
The platform leverages cameras and computer vision to recognize what’s happening during surgery while cross-referencing a library of surgical guides and predicting next steps. Surgical teams get real-time analysis via audio and visual cues they’re able to control using a wireless foot pedal.
This system is the fruit of a collaboration with University College London Hospitals and the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and it’s already been demonstrated in operating rooms. Dr. Sanjay Purkayastha, a surgeon at Imperial College in London, used it during a bariatric procedure.
“What Digital Surgery has done with this technology feels like a comparison with the advent of laparoscopy, which was a truly disruptive and groundbreaking revolution and paradigm shift in surgery,” Purkayastha said in a statement. “I expect there to be a transformation from non-AI to AI-supported surgery as common practice, benefiting training, patient safety, data collection, and outcomes analysis.”
The system draws from a database of more than 150 surgical simulations created for Digital Surgery’s first product, Touch Surgery, a surgical reference manual for mobile phones and tablets that’s integrated into 160 residency programs and used by more than 2 million surgeons globally.
The idea is to familiarize physicians with surgical procedures and equipment, Nehme explained. Each virtual surgery has been storyboarded, rendered, and animated by a team that includes members who previously worked at Industrial Light and Magic. And it’s fully interactive — surgeons and surgeons-in-training can stitch, cut, implant, and perform anything else that’s required as pop-up instructions guide them along.
“We asked ourselves, ‘If you build a map, can you build intelligence around that map?’ We believe in the intersection between surgery and technology,” Nehme said. “We’re driven by the mission to make surgical care accessible for all patients globally.”
Digital Surgery launched a complementary augmented reality experience at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that overlays live video feeds of professional surgeons with step-by-step instructions, in partnership with glasses manufacturer Daqri. An app for Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset is also in development. (Nehme said that neither is surgery-ready yet, and that both will require Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance before they can be used in an operating theater.)
“Autonomous surgery … [is a] long-term future vision,” Nehme said. “Our vision [for] today and the next couple of years [is] a technology layer that supports and coordinates surgery.”
Digital Surgery was named one of LinkedIn’s top U.K. startup companies in 2017. In November 2017, it raised $20 million in a funding round led by 8VC, bringing its overall total to $30 million.