Published June 21, 2019
A team of Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences entrepreneurs is launching a new company to solve problems that surgeons experience firsthand.
SurgIno is the brainchild of four trainees in the general surgery residency program — Tatiana V. Boyko, MD; Stephen Chiang, MD; Jinwei Hu, MD; and Thomas J. Langan, MD.
The startup is developing Tensure, a medical device that measures the tension of tissues as they pull away from each another when surgeons close an incision.
The idea literally took root while Boyko was in an operating room.
She was closing a large abdominal incision on a patient who had a bowel perforation through the colon, and realized that surgeons could benefit from a tool that provides accurate measurements of the tension created as tissues pull away from each other at the point of closure.
“The average person may not realize how much pressure and swelling occurs in a person when they are sick,” she says. “So much water gets stored in tissues — which become swollen — it’s as if you gained 100 pounds overnight, but your clothes are the same size.”
Usually, doctors must estimate the tension based on experience, and Boyko saw the potential to improve care for patients by providing a more precise assessment.
When tension is high at the site of a closed incision, patients are at risk of needing hernia repair later on if tissues begin to come apart again.
“If you close an incision under too much tension, it can fall apart, which is a horrible complication,” Boyko says. “Sometimes it happens slowly over time. I thought I could really benefit from a device that measured the tissue tension.”
SurgIno’s Tensure device has small hooks that attach to a patient’s fascia — connective tissues located beneath the skin that enclose muscles and organs.
When a surgeon is ready to close an incision, Tensure can be placed at the surgery site to make measurements. If surgeons decide the tissue tension is too high, they can opt to perform a procedure such as a mesh repair that helps to reinforce the seam.
“We came up with a device that works very easily and just measures with a gauge to show the amount of tension present,” Boyko notes. “It’s kind of a simple device, but the implications are enormous.”
“Tensure is poised to improve care for patients and help patients, doctors and hospitals save on health care costs,” Hu says. “It takes the guesswork out when it comes to measuring tension and helps surgeons perform surgery in a more optimal way.”
“By doing so, Tensure has the potential to reduce future complications from common abdominal surgeries such as C-sections and hernia repairs,” he adds.
SurgIno’s vision is “surgical innovation for surgeons,” Hu says.
“Surgeons have always been innovators in their field. A surgeon came up with the first heart catheter,” he explains. “Actually, the guy who did it, Thomas Fogarty, actually catheterized himself and almost got kicked out of residency for that, but that invention ended up saving millions of lives.”
Tensure is its first device, but SurgIno has a portfolio of products and innovations from local Buffalo surgeons that it would eventually like to roll out.
”Our vision is for SurgIno to accelerate medical innovation in the surgical field,” Hu says.
Resources at UB are helping the company get off the ground. For example, all four co-founders took advantage of UB’s Surgery Plus Program, which enabled them to obtain additional degrees and do research in business, bioinformatics or biomedical engineering during their residency.
“Dr. Schwaitzberg brought along a lot of ideas about innovation, the intersection of different disparate fields in creating something different,” Hu says. “It makes UB’s surgery residency program quite unique.”
“We were able to do this because we are in this protected time so we can focus on projects like this,” Boyko says. ”Without the Surgery Plus Program, we wouldn’t have been able to form our startup.”
The experience was invaluable as the team developed Tensure, competed in business competitions and pitched investors.
SurgIno also took advantage of business coaching or other programs for entrepreneurs through the Department of Surgery, UB’s Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP) and UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.
The team won the regional Student 2 Biz competition, a local business pitch contest that serves as the regional competition for the New York Business Plan Competition, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the state’s colleges and universities.
SurgIno placed third in the NYSTAR MedTech and Well Being category in the state competition in Albany this spring. It was also a finalist in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition that was created by BEP and the UB School of Management.
“These competitions have been indispensible in developing our marketing skills and improving our business pitch,” Boyko says.
The next step for SurgIno is conducting large-scale customer discovery, working with Martin K. Casstevens, BEP’s business formation and commercialization manager, who is the team’s adviser.
”We plan on expanding that customer discovery on a national scale and we are always on the lookout for funding,” Hu says. “To produce a medical device from start-to-finish is incredibly resource intensive.”
“We have a prototype, but we are definitely looking for financing to continue research and development,” Boyko adds.
SurgIno filed a provisional patent for Tensure in February. The company’s board of advisers is comprised of Schwaitzberg, Casstevens and Albert H. Titus, PhD, professor and chair of biomedical engineering.
SurgIno will also be working with the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program, which prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory and accelerates the economic and societal benefits of NSF-funded, basic-research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization.