Israeli-American medical tech makes taking blood easier

Joystick-like robot, developed by BGU and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, offers precise needle placement, reduces discomfort

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Test tubes filled with blood samples (Illustrative photo credit: Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90)
Test tubes filled with blood samples (Illustrative photo credit: Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have joined forces to set up a company that will seek to commercialize a new system to make it easier for medical practitioners to insert needles into veins for a range of medical procedures, like taking blood or intra-venous feeding.

The new company, Xact Medical, will further develop and bring to market the Fast Intelligent Needle Delivery (FIND) system, that uses robotics and ultrasound to guide and insert a needle into a patient’s body.

The technology, which combines clinical, research and engineering expertise, will be particularly significant for children, whose vascular systems are so small and where precision can be critical, the two entities said in a joint statement. The new tool, which looks like a joystick, will make it easier for clinicians to make a precise, quick and convenient placement of a needle at the right point, and will help “significantly” improve the odds of successful vascular access on the first try.

“it is not easy to place a needle within a vein,” said Prof. Hugo Guterman of BGU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and technical advisor for Xact Medical. “Of every 10 such procedures, three are not successful. Just in the US some 300 people a year die, because of infections” due to misplaced needles.

The FIND prototype created by BGU and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center helps doctors find veins easily (Courtesy)
The FIND prototype created by BGU and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center helps doctors find veins easily (Courtesy)

Currently doctors and clinicians have to guess where to insert the needle, or use an ultrasound in one hand to find the right position, balancing the needle with the other. The new robot, which has yet to apply for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance, puts both the needle and the ultrasound into one device to identify the best spot and automatically inserts the needle. The clinician can also decide to just use the ultrasound, and press on the button to insert the needle once this is positioned correctly.

“The fact that up to a third of central placement attempts in kids fail on the first try is unacceptable to us,” said Daniel von Allmen, surgeon-in-chief at Cincinnati Children’s. “This technology can drastically reduce patient discomfort and procedure time while improving outcomes for children and adults.”

The technology was invented and developed through a collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and BGU, and began with a back-of-the-napkin sketch in 2012 that quickly progressed from an idea to a prototype.

“We believe Xact is the first of many high-impact innovations to emerge from this collaboration,” Netta Cohen, chief executive officer of BGN Technologies, BGU’s technology transfer company, said in a statement.

Xact Medical will initially focus on central line placements in pediatric and adult patients with plans to expand into additional markets, such as biopsy. Immediate next steps for the company include further testing and market research of its prototype. The end product aims to be a wireless robot, said Guterman.

The technology has the potential to improve patient outcomes and cut costs to the healthcare system, said Andrew Cothrel, chief executive officer of Xact.

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