UCL spinout secures funding to improve abdominal surgery using AI

A new spinout company from UCL and Imperial College London has received pre-seed funding to develop AI technology that could make laparoscopic surgery more effective.

EnAcuity’s technology could help surgeons carry out laparoscopies more safely and effectively by highlighting functional information in the body that is hard for the eye to detect.

Laparoscopies are a form of minimally invasive surgery performed on the abdomen using small incisions and a thin tube with a video camera that shows the surgeon what is going on inside the patient’s body. Typically, the cameras reproduce on screen what the surgeon would see for themselves if they were performing open surgery.

The company’s technology could transform laparoscopic surgery and enable surgeons to perform the procedures more precisely by displaying functional information that is undetectable to the naked eye.

Dr Maria Leiloglou, EnAcuity’s co-founder and CEO and an honorary research fellow at UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering and at Imperial, said: "Surgeons have difficulty detecting some pathologies such as cancer and surgical structures of interest such as vessels and nerves, partly because the human eye is not sensitive enough to pick up on the subtle colour differences that distinguish them. By providing more information, our solution could mark a significant advancement in the field of minimally invasive surgery."

EnAcuity’s technology could also provide an alternative to hyperspectral imaging devices, which are better at discriminating colours than the human visual system but have drawbacks. Dr Leiloglou said that their disadvantages include being bulky, causing delays in surgical procedures, and compromising the overall image quality.

Building on years of research at UCL and Imperial College London, EnAcuity’s solution uses cameras already used in the operating theatre, paired with AI computer vision models trained to recognise tissue structures and pathologies, which are then highlighted on the screen for the surgeon.

Its founding team includes Professor Danail Stoyanov (UCL Computer Science), Director of UCL’s Wellcome / EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS); Dr Tobias Czempiel, Chief Technology Officer, a PhD graduate from TU Munich with extensive experience in surgical data science who holds honorary research fellowships at UCL and Imperial; and Professor Daniel Elson in Imperial’s Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery and Department of Surgery and Cancer.

Professor Stoyanov said: "Extending surgical visualisation beyond the limits of the human eye can be transformational in enhancing patient treatment. This venture to translate work from the UK’s leading surgical technology centres into a clinical system embodies our mission to bring foundational research to the benefit of patients."

The company received support from UCL Business (UCLB), UCL’s commercialisation arm, with intellectual property protection and completion of the funding round.

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL’s Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) said: "Many congratulations to the EnAcuity team for their success reaching this pivotal stage of their entrepreneurial journey and taking pioneering collaborative university research and technology to the patients that need it.

"This is a great example of the difference UCL spinouts can make to people’s lives, highlighted in UCLB’s Impact Report this week."

The new UCLB Impact Report has shown that UCL spinout businesses, formed to commercialise and scale up innovations in research, have created more than 2,200 new jobs and attracted almost £3bn in investment in the last five years.

UCL is also among recipients of £80m government funding aiming to transform the way we develop and use AI, supporting its research on healthcare and building responsible generative models.

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