(Photo | Courtesy of Lazarus 3D)
Biomedical Pioneers Creating Lifelike Printed Organs to Help Hone Surgical Skills
A pair of biomedical pioneers — whose company was a finalist in 2020’s Bend Venture Conference showcasing the most promising emerging start-ups — is aiming to “revolutionize medicine and healthcare” by replicating realistic models of human anatomy for surgical rehearsals through adaptation of 3D printing technology.
It may come as a surprise to many that traditional methods for teaching surgeons in preparation for invasive and potentially complex procedures have included practicing on food items, including making incisions on bananas or bell peppers and sewing them back together.
Medical schools often also use cadavers for surgical training, but these don’t accurately represent a functioning human part or the state of a patient needing an operation.
So, to move the needle to help physicians better “operate with confidence” (a motto they have since trademarked) Doctors Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Zaneveld — who were trained at the prestigious Baylor College of Medicine — hit on the idea of finding a better preparatory path through “Additive Manufacturing” and formed Lazarus 3D to create more effective training models.
In a real homegrown story, over a sustained period of trial and error, the Molecular and Human Genetics PhDs turned their kitchen into an experimental printing lab and worked on producing life-like models of human organs.
Jacques Zaneveld, who is company CEO, said, “I was always fascinated by 3D printers and quickly realized their potential for use in healthcare, and specifically for training – but it took several years to develop the technology to create realistic human anatomy models.
“We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that eventually allowed us to, even as quickly as overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models mimicking the real tissue of human anatomy.”
Working nights and weekends, the Zanevelds developed a method to 3D print exact copies of patients to precise details from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT) scan data utilizing realistic life-like materials.
Such soft replicas of patients’ organs can be used to hone skills and perform surgical rehearsals ahead of time, before a patient’s operation, allowing doctors to optimize their surgical plan and practice safely. Models can also be used to effectively explain and illustrate to patients what surgeries they are about to receive.
Smriti Zaneveld said, “We formulated the concept for Lazarus 3D when we were students and saw an urgent need to improve how physicians were getting trained.
“Students, residents and fellows were being trained via hands-on to develop medical skills using fruits and vegetables. The reality is that when physicians do learn, they are learning on the job, which means there is an inherent risk. So, what drives our team, our passion is the impact we can have on patient outcomes.”
After pooling resources and moving from the kitchen to more formal production facilities over several years, Lazarus 3D more recently relocated to Oregon, with a facility in Corvallis benefitting from proximity to Oregon State University’s hi-tech expertise.
Jacques Zaneveld observed, “We felt like Oregon had the right mix of affordability and quality of life, as well as having a supportive and collaborative ecosystem for entrepreneurial activity and we also wanted to keep this hi-tech type of manufacturing in the U.S.
“We have used our patented technology to print generic medical practice models and sales have allowed us to self-fund in terms of growth, which is somewhat unusual for an early-stage venture.
“The next step is to seek a round of equity funding of around $6 million to complete the steps of FDA approval for patient-specific modeling, which will significantly increase perceived value, as well as allowing for more marketing to increase exposure and additional hires in sales and manufacturing to facilitate future expansion.”
Rule changes also look like allowing patients to bill the cost for the model to insurance and Medicare, which could also increase revenue projection models.
A testament to the company’s progress and prospects came this year when it was selected as an “Impact Stage” finalist out of some 85 candidates at the Bend Venture Conference, hosted by Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) and now recognized as the largest angel investor conference in the Pacific Northwest.
The category includes for-profit companies, whose business models are integrated with a mission to, “have a significant and measurable social or environmental impact” and aim to generate long-term enterprise value and attractive returns on capital.
As scientists and entrepreneurs, Smriti Zaneveld said they have also tried to offer the benefit of their experience to help inspire the next generation of graduates in taking innovations to market, including advising a recent forum streamed by OSU-Cascades in connection with the university’s Center of Excellence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Business
Under Zanevelds’ leadership, Lazarus 3D has increased sales exponentially since its inception and is currently providing medical training models across the country. It has also adapted its 3D modeling to develop and produce personal protective equipment face-shield prototypes for use in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main future thrust of the company will be the advancement of its “PRE-SURE” (PRe-operative SUrgical REhearsal) medical device product line, using patented 3D printing technology to fabricate the lifelike models from soft silicones or hydrogels in-house, which allows faster turnaround times, intending to scale up nationally and eventually internationally as demand increases.
The Additive Manufacturing (AM) approach also provides optimal flexibility and makes it easier to create realistic details with extremely precise tolerances, especially on even small components like the cardiac vein.
Medical professionals have already noted the precision and realism of the 3D printed models — especially the patient-specific versions used to prepare for surgical procedures such as the removal of a tumor.
Lazarus 3D Head of Biomedical Engineering Mouna Taroua, who is focused on developing a pipeline for management of large-scale manufacturing of high-fidelity medical models, added, “The surgeon must have the exact dimensions of the organ and the tumor, so the rehearsal can reflect the same outcomes and difficulties as the real-time surgery.
“In one recent case, a patient with only one kidney had kidney cancer. The tumor was large and directly involved in the renal artery, so the surgeon reported that practicing on a replica of the patient’s organs was very useful: it helped save the patient’s only kidney.”
Lazarus 3D reported a revenue increase of some 70 percent for 2019 over the previous year, showing that its innovation has a pivotal role to play in the future development of surgical preparation and medical training.