Shear waves, to be precise. SuperSonic Imagine has pioneered real-time shear wave elastography, which enables doctors to see more clearly what is happening in, say, the breast, thyroid, liver or prostate. The firm’s participation in a recent collaborative European project entitled ELASTOBUS, funded by the Eurostars programme, helped to push it towards further innovation, successfully doubling its turnover in the space of two years.
‘We were invited to add shear waves, which are elastic waves that can move through an object, to find lesions during breast screening exam,’ explains chief technology officer Claude Cohen-Bacrie. ‘What we have managed to achieve is to automate what used to be done manually.’ In a nutshell, elastography measures the stiffness of soft tissue, a key parameter used in detecting and classifying tumours. Stiffness has always been used by doctors to assess the condition of a patient, which is why they often palpate the liver or breast to check for abnormality.
‘If you put a gelatine pudding in front of you and touch one side, you’ll see a vibration propagating – this is the shear wave. The harder the tissue is – the faster the shear wave propagates,’ says Cohen-Bacrie. The technology will help doctors make more accurate assessments. ‘At the moment, eight out of nine breast biopsies are unnecessary, as they provide a negative outcome,’ says Cohen-Bacrie. ’Elastography brings a significant improvement in specificity, leading to a decrease in false positives. This was demonstrated through an extensive worldwide clinical trial recording and analysing data of 1500 patients.’
THE WAY TO SUCCESS
The technology is applicable to other areas of the body. Prostate cancer for example, the most common cancer in males with more than 910,000 annual cases worldwide, is more easily visualised with elastography. SuperSonic Imagine, which was set up by current president Jacques Souquet and Claude Cohen-Bacrie in 2005, has in the space of eight years gone from being a two-man operation to an enterprise employing 120. ‘It’s been hard,’ says Cohen-Bacrie. ‘We established this company on shear wave elastography technology in 2005, and we were finally able to enter the market in 2009.’
‘THE FIRM'S PARTICIPATION IN EUROSTARS HELPED TO PUSH IT TOWARDS FURTHER INNOVATION, SUCCESSFULLY DOUBLING ITS TURNOVER IN THE SPACE OF TWO YEARS'.
The biggest challenge for an SME in this field, he says, is gaining regulatory approval. After this was accomplished though, SuperSonic Imagine was able to demonstrate and convince the medical profession that what they had was potentially revolutionary. This was only made possible, however, because they had access to funding. Participation in the Eurostars programme also enabled the sharing of know-how and technology with Israeli firm Helix Medical Systems, which speeded up the development of the prototype.
‘We won a prize in France for being the most innovative company in 2005, which gave us 450,000 euro to kick start the business,’ says Cohen-Bacrie. ‘We have since been through several rounds of funding. But ultimately the results speak for themselves; a reduction by two thirds of false positive results.’