Shark Tank Puts Best of New Ideas Front and Center at Tech-Con

Tech-Con’s popular Shark Tank presentations on Saturday featured four entrepreneurs pitching new devices designed to improve outcomes for cardiothoracic surgery.

M. Blair Marshall, MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Steven Bolling, MD, from the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, served as judges to provide feedback.

The first pitch—from George V. Letsou, MD, from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston—described a non-blood-contacting biventricular cardiac assist device for the treatment of acute heart failure syndrome. Heart failure affects approximately 1 million people, he said, with serious complications occurring in a substantial proportion of patients. Approximately 25% of people with heart failure need biventricular support.

“Better short-term support is needed for these patients,” said Dr. Letsou.

The cardiac assist device offers many benefits, including easy insertion and both active and passive compression. “The big difference is that the pericardium holds the device in place, so it can’t slip off the heart,” said Dr. Letsou, adding that the device expands the market for cardiac assist devices by $2 billion because it can be used for patients who are ineligible for existing devices.

Both Dr. Marshall and Dr. Bolling said the pitch was good, but Dr. Bolling added that it lacked information on how much investment funding was needed and a timeline for the backing.

A novel chest drainage unit was proposed by Jens Eckardt, MD, from Odense University Hospital in Denmark, who noted that 15% of patients have recurrence of pneumothorax within 24 hours after removal of a chest tube. He described a chest drainage unit with an integrated CO2 detector that can distinguish between a false and true air leak. “No chest drainage unit on the market can identify a false air leak,” said Dr. Eckardt.

The leakage detector provides an easy read-out, and the degree of air leak is defined by color. “The quantification of the air leak can help the clinician decide the right time for removal of the chest tube,” said Dr. Eckardt. The cost of the unit is low, adding about $10 to the price of a traditional unit.

Dr. Bolling questioned the potential for a good return on investment because of the minimal increase in the cost compared with traditional chest drainage units and the overall low cost of these units.

Techniques for protectively cooling the brain while the heart is stopped during cardiac surgery were established decades ago, but these techniques have stayed in the operating room. Robert Schultz, MD, from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, described a central venous catheter equipped with a balloon that can be used during cardiac arrest to provide deep and rapid cooling of the brain while maintaining normothermia in the body.

The device allows significantly faster brain cooling than can be accomplished by any existing technique and would help reduce the incidence of brain damage, said Dr. Schultz. The ultimate goal is to have the device available on ambulances, and he noted that there are plans to expand the market for the device to patients with ischemic stroke.

Dr. Marshall asked if the device could be used for patients with hemorrhagic stroke, and Dr. Schultz said that the device has not been tested in that patient population.

A mixed-reality application for improving visualization in thoracic surgery, known as ThoraLens, closed out the Shark Tank presentations. Mark F. Berry, MD, and Brooke Krajancich from Stanford University Medical Center in California, pitched the technology. Dr. Berry said that the number of small lung nodules is increasing with the advent of lung cancer screening, and additional invasive localization techniques are sometimes necessary, adding costs and risks for patients.

Krajancich, a PhD student in electrical engineering at Stanford School of Engineering, described the mixed-reality headset, based on Microsoft’s HoloLens, that allows physicians to see digital data such as patient information and computed tomography images displayed over a patient. The device allows the user to manipulate holograms by hand gestures and voice command, eliminating the need for interruptions in a surgical procedure to review patient data.

Dr. Marshall questioned the demand for the device, as she infrequently needs additional techniques for localizing small nodules. Dr. Berry countered that many physicians do not have the same level of expertise, and an audience member added that the device would offer outstanding education for residents and medical students.