Health Valley
Text: Leïla Hussein

On the road: KB Medical

Using a robot in spinal surgery KB Medical has developed technology to make minimally invasive spine surgery more widely available.

Since its foundation in 2012, KB Medical has focused exclusively on developing its AQrate robotic system. The technology assists surgeons in performing minimally invasive spine surgery, meaning that the procedure involves a tiny incision. “Only 20% of spine surgery is minimally invasive, compared with 80% for gastric surgery,” says Jean-Marc Wismer, CEO of KB Medical since 2014. “There was a clear demand from professionals for technology designed for these operations, which are performed to treat herniated discs, scoliosis and other back deformities.” And rightly so. These procedures require extreme precision as they involve high risks. An injury to the arteries or spinal cord can lead directly to patient paralysis or death.

“When we began designing the product, we had to keep in mind regulatory and clinical requirements. We asked surgeons what they needed, so that we could work on real issues.” And the result? In addition to its hardware platform and navigation and 3D imaging system, AQrate is intuitive, stays out of the way of surgeons and offers them precision down to the millimetre. The robot is currently being tested, but Jean-Marc Wismer is already planning the next phase. “We hope to launch the system in early 2016. We are in discussions with major distribution groups, especially in Germany and the United States.”

This EPFL spin-off, founded by two students, has come a long way since its beginnings. With more than fifteen innovations patented, the ten-person team has recently moved to larger offices in the centre of Lausanne, where they are developing new functions. “The medium-term goal is for minimally invasive spine surgery to become more common, and for procedures to be shortened to limit trauma to the patient.”