Heart conditions show up as irregularities in the organ's electrical routine. Heart surgeons and physicians sometimes check in on that routine by using catheters with electrodes at their tips. They wind up a vein or artery in the patient's legs or arms and into their heart chambers where they record electrical signals thundering through the muscle.
But as insightful as the procedure can be, it results in a picture that's flat—a sketch of what's going on at best. Now a company called Rhythmia Medical is developing a system for translating mere pings into pixels to give doctors a clearer picture of the heart's architecture and electrical activity—in 3-D—as it pumps. Rhythmia’s researchers have been able to cut the time taken to map the heart's electrical activity by at least half in preclinical and clinical tests, Peter Sommerness, general manager of Boston Scientific's electrophysiology division, tells Fast Company.
The first part of Rhythmia's new two-part system involves a new kind of catheter with 64 electrodes. It’s designed to track electrical signals coursing through the heart as it beats, as well as sketch its geometry and internal shape. Part two involves making sense of all the data that the souped-up catheter is collecting. The company has designed software that translates the electrical signals into 3-D visualizations.
For patients with irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, the sensors and the mapping software are designed to give physicians an unprecedented view of a patient’s heart chambers, helping them not only identify that there's a problem but spot which sections of muscle could be the source of irregular beats.
Electrophysiology and 3-D visualization is an area Boston Scientific is getting serious about, and Rhythmia is part of a larger plan. "We want to increase the size of this venture and this partnership. And that means growing our footprint in the Boston area with these critical skill sets," Sommerness says. Though non-cardiac applications for Rhythmia’s tech have yet to be developed, it’s entirely possible that it could be adapted for use outside the heart.
"Electrophysiology is a $2.5 billion space, and it’s growing rapidly. This tool is an essential strategic piece," he explains, adding that Rhythmia's high-data density electrodes and visualization tech, presented as a complete package, was what was appealing to the higher-ups at Boston Scientific.
Rhythmia, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, was founded in 2004 by two business school graduates, Leon Amariglio and Doron Harlev. They were looking to start a successful business, but "one that had a greater good other than the commercial one," Harlev tells Fast Company. They were sure of one other thing: The way to go was to build something new. "We felt that innovating our own technology was something that would bring value," Harlev explains.
With experience in finance behind them, Amariglio and Harlev were in the unique position of starting a high-tech venture without any personal experience in the medical device space.
So they spent the first year together researching and brainstorming, sitting in at labs and hospitals in the Boston area. They developed a handful of ideas in that time, many of which needed to be abandoned, sometimes after months of effort. Until Rhythmia finally stuck. "No one makes perfect decisions and neither did we, but that was the process," Amariglio tells Fast Company.
Where building a business is concerned, Amariglio says that entrepreneurship is less about taking risk and more about managing risk. For the two partners, their plans seem to have paid off.
Rhythmia was scooped up by Boston Scientific earlier this month. Boston Scientific bought the company for $90 million and intends to pay another $175 million over the next five years if the company meets certain targets. It comes at a crucial time for Rhythmia, which is looking to get its diagnostics checked out and greenlit for use by the FDA. Clearance permitting, Boston Scientific expects to begin limited market launches of the system in 2013.
[Image: Flickr user CIHR_IRSC, and Rhythmia]
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the size of the electrophysiology market as $2.5 million.