Flight simulators for doctors

OPERATION SIMULATORS – Shorten medical training and increase patient safety: That is the goal of Simedis AG. The start-up from St. Gallen has been nominated for the Startfeld Diamant Young Entrepreneur Award.

Matijas Cosic never had anything to do with medicine. Although some of his family members are in medical professions, he himself always had a queasy feeling when it came to hospitals or doctor’s visits. That he is now managing director of a start-up company that develops surgical simulators for doctors and hospitals, is more likely to be due to chance. It was his longtime family doctor Robert Vuckovic, who approached him a few years ago with the business idea. Vuckovic and his colleague Albert Schäffer, who is regarded as one of the pioneers in the development of virtual reality simulators for medical purposes, were looking for a business economist to found the company.

Simedis-Mitgründer Matijas Cosic mit dem Prototyp eines Operationssimulators. (Bild: Ralph Ribi)

The interest of Cosic, who completed his MBA at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur at this time, was aroused thereby. At the beginning, he was still working parallel to his studies at Simedis. Since the official founding of the company in June 2014, he has been fully involved with the St. Gallen Start-up.

The surgical simulators will one day be used in a wide range of procedures in all minimally invasive and intervening disciplines. Interventional means targeted intervening in the body tissue. From the colonoscopy over the implantation of a stent up to the removal of the appendix, everything can be simulated realistically.

Reduce risks and costs
At the moment, however, the work of Cosic and his team is still about project development. In consultation with international medical technology companies, they examine which interventions could be interesting and feasible for the simulation. If an operation or an intervention proves to be suitable, the medtech company supplies the instruments to Simedis, where they are subsequently installed in the simulators.

Currently the company employs three people. “But we have twelve software developers who provide solutions for our devices as freelancers. They work on all five continents and work in countries such as Argentina, New Zealand and Belgium, “says Cosic. The international orientation will also be apparent to potential customers: once the development phase is complete, the devices will be sold to physicians, hospitals and universities around the world.

Simedis wants to start selling later this year. First inquiries are already available. Cosic expects the high-tech simulators, in particular for the operation planning decisive advantages. Thanks to specially developed software, it will probably be possible in about five years to fully authenticate the organs of each patient with the help of magnetic resonance tomography data. Thus, physicians can simulate surgery before surgery one-to-one and accurately assess which instruments, which catheters or which stents should be used. “This option not only minimizes risks, but also saves costs,” says company founder Cosic – also with a view to expensive healthcare.

Cooperation with the Cantonal Hospital
Although the young entrepreneur was often advised to set up his start-up in the Zurich region, he wants to stick to the St. Gallen site. In addition to the family roots, the immediate proximity to the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen is decisive for this. “The support of the hospital was noticeable from the beginning. This has significantly supported our project, and we want to continue working with it, “says Cosic.

In addition to the completion of the fully automated software that can simulate every patient within a very short time, the certification of the operating simulators by the Swiss specialist bodies is a long-term goal of the start-up company. Similar to pilots who spend part of their training in flight simulators, prospective doctors could expect operations on Simedis equipment to be considered as training lessons. “That could,” says Cosic, “shorten the surgical training and make it more efficient and contribute to increasing patient safety.”

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