The future of high-stakes brain cancer treatment could be in Montreal


Montreal could be the setting of where some of the world’s most innovate brain cancer treatment is being developed.

ODS Medical is developing new surgical-guidance tools, like a laser-based probe, to improve accuracy in cancer surgical procedures, but mostly brain cancer. To do it, the startup is able to identify tissues with diffusely infiltrative cancer through sophisticated machine learning algorithms and a set of advanced optical techniques, such as Raman spectroscopy (RS), intrinsic fluorescence spectroscopy (IRS) and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS).

The enemy of ODS Medical (and anyone with brain cancer), are low-density, invasive cancer cells that are difficult to treat through current treatments.

According to ODS, its treatment can identify cancer cells that have invaded a normal brain with an accuracy of over 90 per cent.

“It allows us to do things we could never do before,” said cofounder Kevin Petrecca, chief of neurosurgery and the head of the brain cancer research group at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

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ODS Medical was founded by Petrecca, Frederic Leblond, Ph.D, an associate professor in Engineering Physics at Polytechnique Montreal, Eric Marple a career entrepreneur focusing in fiber optics and Kirk Urmey, a principle for EmVision LLC, a company specializing in medical technologies.

The company’s CEO, Christopher Kent, told MTLinTech that part of the problem with brain cancer is that some cells aren’t limited to the main tumor. Cells can often move very quickly into the surrounding tissue, within centimetres of where the main tumor is. And even Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is often not sensitive enough to detect these regions of cells.

“Because they’re doing so at a fairly low density, it’s very difficult for any of the physically-based imaging techniques to see them, because there’s no real physical trace that they leave. They’re just cells like any other,” said Kent. “And that’s where the advantage of molecular imaging comes in. We can actually discern the presence of cancerous cells rather than other cells.”

It’s all of such critical because scientific literature shows that improvement in patients with brain cancer, including life expectancy, is a result of how much of the cancer has been removed.

“Theres a very direct relationship between how much you get out and how well the patients do. Any added benefit that we can bring to that procedure is going to have a big impact on these patients’ lives,” Kent told us.

ODS Medical’s main product -which comprises of both software and hardware- is being used on trial patients of Dr. Petrecca’s. Kent said the trials thus far are backing up ODS’s claims in terms of the precision of measurement it can get in a brain. Now the team needs to show that patients who use ODS will be better off than before.

Because of these upcoming trials, as well as a myriad of federal and international regulations the team must pass, a finished product is likely still a few years away.

Interestingly, while the solution is currently heavily focused on brain cancer, Kent said ODS Medical could use the same technology in other surgical settings, for any solid tumor site.

“Right now we’re looking at applications in prostate cancer and others, or basically anywhere where there’s value in making very precise excisions, sparing surrounding tissue and getting cleaner margins, and we believe theres a real advantage in using our approach.”

Ideally, the company will look to raise around $2 million in seed funding, which they want to use on building the team and focusing on the quality of their work. That, said Kent, will be a recurring challenge for ODS Medical.

“We’re moving from an engineering prototype to a reputable system that can deployed in a clinic, and quality is very much something that we need to build into the fabric of the company.”

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