Our Co-Founders’ Story: Paving the Way for a New Standard of Care in Assessing Liver Health
March 23, 2021
It takes a certain type of person to be painstakingly driven to seek novel ways of making the impossible possible. Someone who is constantly curious, has grit, and loves to solve problems. Drs. Tim Salcudean and Robert Rohling, co-founders of Sonic Incytes Medical Corp., have these characteristics in spades.
Salcudean and Rohling are leading experts in the fields of ultrasound, image-guided surgery and robotics. They have successfully licensed technology to leading companies in the fields of medical imaging, haptic feedback, robotic surgery and others.
In 2005, they co-invented Shear Wave Absolute Vibro-Elastography (S-WAVE) to measure the properties of tissue, leading to the development of Sonic Incytes and its lead product, Velacur, the first handheld 3D liver health assessment solution.
“There are 100 million people with fatty liver disease in the United States. Everyone in the health care industry realizes that they all should be assessed, but there is no practical way to do that, so we wanted to provide a solution for that problem,” explains Rohling.
Recognizing the emerging epidemic of fatty liver disease, the two inventors set out to create a device that could be easily used by physicians to monitor their patients’ liver health, with the same ease as one monitors temperature or blood pressure.
When they started research on this technology in the lab, they were focused on measuring the underlying properties of tissue as many chronic diseases are characterized by tissue stiffness.
“Liver disease manifests itself through the transformation of the tissue. As you get sicker, liver fat increases and the liver hardens. The earlier liver disease is diagnosed, the more proactive a patient can become, and through diet and exercise they can reverse disease,” says Salcudean.
Not only can their technology measure liver fattiness (steatosis) it also measures liver tissue stiffness (fibrosis), making it a comprehensive solution for liver disease assessment with greater accuracy and reliability than the current standard of care.
“Velacur is the only liver assessment technology that takes the same principles of MRI, which is the gold standard in our field, and applies them to ultrasound to generate the same type of measurements,” states Rohling.
Today’s ultrasound requires expert operation and interpretation. By providing quantitative health numbers in a 5-minute procedure with minimal operator training and expertise required, Velacur is taking ultrasound-based liver assessment where it hasn’t been able to go before – in the hands of any medical practitioner.
Not only is Velacur a win for practitioners, it’s a win for patients, too. The health of one’s liver is a strong indicator of overall health. There are many things one can do to improve their health, but not really know how well they’re doing. Velacur gives people the ability to quantify how healthy they are.
“Most of us don’t really understand what’s going on in our liver or our metabolic health. Knowing your liver numbers really makes you think about your lifestyle, your diet and your exercise and this can have a profound psychological effect on your decision making,” states Rohling. “We’ve seen people look at their liver numbers and immediately make different decisions in their lifestyle.”
With widespread adoption, Velacur will also help address the economic burden of liver disease. “The costs of treatment for liver disease can become astronomical very quickly – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – so being able to catch disease early and take action would really cut down health care costs and help the patient, provider and payor,” adds Salcudean.
Since the two started working together in 2001, Salcudean and Rohling have co-supervised 15 Masters and PhD students on this technology, three of which are now part of the Sonic Incytes team. “We’re really lucky to have three outstanding students, who helped us build this technology in the lab, now be part of our company. We wouldn’t be here today without them,” recognizes Rohling.
To find out more about Velacur, register for our next webinar featuring the co-inventors.
Dr. Salcudean is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Laszlo Chair in Biomedical Engineering, and a Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, as well as the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Sonic Incytes Medical Corp. Formerly, he was part of the robotics group at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, and the editor of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation.
Dr. Rohling is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia, and the Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Sonic Incytes Medical Corp. He is also the Director for the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems that houses HATCH, UBC’s startup accelerator at UBC.