NDR Medical Technology: Pushing the boundaries of surgeries with AI

Seeing the benefits that technology can bring, NDR Medical Technology has created a robotic system that will see faster and more accurate surgical processes in the future.

The medtech landscape is evolving at a breakneck pace today, with innovations such as 3D-printed implants and virtual reality rehabilitation systems set to transform the existing face of healthcare.

Now, surgeons may be able to perform minimally invasive surgeries more quickly and accurately with the Automated Needle Targeting (ANT) system, the brainchild of local medical startup NDR Medical Technology.

The Automated Needle Targeting (ANT) system, created by NDR Medical Technology which won second place at SLINGSHOT@SWITCH 2018, is set to be commercially launched early next year.

Set to be commercially launched early next year, the ANT system aims to be the world’s first smart robotic needle guiding system to use artificial intelligence and medical image processing during minimally invasive surgeries.

Founded by Mr Alan Goh and Dr Jason Ng, NDR Medical Technology has come a long way since the startup began developing the device in 2015.

Last year, they beat over 70 startups to emerge as runner-up of SLINGSHOT@SWITCH, an international deep tech competition powered by Startup SG.

“We are living in a time and age where most processes are automated and everything is about precision and automation,” said Mr Goh, whose team has expertise in robotics and computer vision.

“And we thought technology should be used more widely in the medical field because conventional devices are no longer sufficient to cater to more complex surgeries.”

Designed to be a surgeon’s assistant

According to Mr Goh, the ANT system would be useful during minimally invasive surgeries such as cancer biopsies and treatment, as well as large stone removal.

Currently, when surgeons are planning to perform such surgeries, they rely largely on 2D imaging. However, these plans might not be fully translated into actual execution due to factors including patient condition, the surgeon’s psychomotor skills and other inaccuracies.

“The ANT system ensures that surgeons are able to access the targeted spot with precision according to prior planned trajectory,” said Mr Goh.

He added that their device would, in the next phase of development, analyse and provide the “most optimum and safest insertion path.” The ANT system has already gone through more than 20 iterations to be ready for human trials.

Greater accuracy and safety are key benefits that the device offers, particularly for biopsy processes, where a tissue is removed from the body for examination.

“Now, a biopsy is usually carried out when the tumour is of a larger size,” said Mr Goh. “With the ANT system, it would potentially encourage surgeons to target smaller lesions, thus diagnosing cancer at an earlier stage.”

Taking a leap of faith

This is not the first project the duo has worked on together.

In fact, Mr Goh and Mr Ng boast more than 14 years of experience working together during their time as researchers at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

They then leveraged the wealth of engineering and commercial experience gained in their time there to develop the ANT system.

The decision to go into robotics for surgeries only came after extensive research, preparation and a leap of faith.

High capital costs and complex clinical validation processes often serve as barriers to the introduction of innovative medical devices, said Mr Goh.

The first step for the duo was to approach Dr Tan Yung Khan, a clinician from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, to join their project.

After putting together a prototype and business proposal, they obtained grants under the Startup SG Tech scheme (previously known as the Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme) managed by Enterprise Singapore.

Most recently, the startup was awarded a S$150,000 Startup SG grant as a result of their second place win at SLINGSHOT@SWITCH 2018. The grant was used to kick off their clinical trials – since then, eight pre-clinical animal trials and six clinical human trials have been successfully completed.

NDR Medical Technology used their S$150,000 Startup SG prize grant from SLINGSHOT@SWITCH 2018 to kick off their pre-clinical animal and human trials.

Pushing the boundaries of surgeries

While the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) surgical robots is still in its infancy stage in Singapore, such innovation is necessary to push the boundaries of how surgeries are performed, said both co-founders.

And though the main focus of the company lies largely on the ANT system, the duo hope the application can be extended to other procedures in the future.

“As long as the medical process involves an image guided procedure, it can be a potential market,” said Mr Goh.

He added that they are currently studying the possibility of extending the application to other surgeries, such as those involving the brain as well as liver biopsies.

“We hope we can create a product that is helpful in the medical industry to fill the gap between medical professionals and technology,” said Mr Goh.

“And hopefully in the long run, we would be able to improve medical procedures to benefit not only patients, but also surgeons.”