Photo: Bertel Henning Jensen

No need to lie still in the scanner of the future

Medicine and medico technology Medical equipment and systems Hardware and components Image analysis
Senior Researcher Oline Vinter Olesen is working on transforming a seven-year-old idea into a business, backed by DTU, Harvard, and Rigshospitalet.

It all started with quiet contemplation in the corridors of Rigshospitalet. It was here that Oline Vinter Olesen was spending her days as a thesis student in Medicine and Technology, an interdisciplinary programme offered by DTU in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen.

Her studies had led her to the hospital department for Clinical Physiology, Nuclear Medicine and PET (Positron Emissions Tomography), headed up by Dr. Liselotte Højgaard, MD. While there, she saw for herself the problems the department was experiencing with patients moving about during scans—particularly children and patients suffering from neurological complaints such as Parkinson’s disease.

“When I saw the challenges they were facing, I was struck by the idea that it must be possible to find a smarter solution. Up until now, the hospital has sometimes been unable to scan certain types of patient, primarily children and patients who have a tendency to move. In other cases, the patient has had to be sedated. I thought it would be great if this were no longer necessary,” explains Oline Vinter Olesen.

She therefore started work on developing what eventually became ‘Tracoline’—a system that registers the patient’s movements in a scanner such that patients no longer have to lie completely still during a scan. Oline Vinter Olesen continues:

“We’ve created a computer vision system that we integrate with medical scanners. The system actually consists of a modified surface scanner with the associated software that registers how patients move. Our product supports the first part, i.e. it produces robust and valid registration of how the patient moves. The next step is to adjust for the movement. The long-term goal is to develop a universal solution for all scanners so they follow the patient’s movements. But we can already make a difference.”

Harvard was listening
Oline Vinter Olesen initially used her ideas to complete an industrial PhD in partnership with Siemens.

“When I defended my PhD, Dr. Bruce Rosen, who is linked to Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, happened to be present. Afterwards, he asked me if I could develop a system that also worked with an MR scanner. And it’s almost impossible to turn down an opportunity like that ...” she recalls.

The fact is, however, that it is difficult to integrate the magnetic MR scanners with external electronic hardware on account of the influence from the magnet at the core of such scanners. Oline Vinter Olesen immediately started work on a solution to this problem.

“It was an interesting technical challenge to come up with a hardware system that could operate in a powerful magnetic field, without ruining the MR images. At the same time, the commercial perspectives were huge. Both aspects motivated me to get to work,” she relates.

Prototype at Rigshospitalet
Today, development has progressed so far that it formed the basis for establishing the company ‘TracInnovations’, where Oline Vinter Olesen is working with a commercial partner and a software developer to commercialize the idea and the product.

Thus far, the work has resulted in a prototype that is currently being used at Rigshospitalet and producing positive results. In addition, the company is working closely with DTU, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital, which has already expressed interest in receiving the next prototype.

The idea has actually always been to commercialize the project, as Oline Vinter Olesen explains:

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference and to find solutions to specific problems for a wide range of patients. I want to make something that can be installed—and used— in hospitals, and I’ve succeeded,” she says, before adding a little qualification.

“Right now, a single system is being used in a single hospital. I won’t start to feel proud of my achievement until ten systems, or a hundred, have been brought online. That’s what’s inspiring me to keep going.”

In order to get started on the first part of the commercialization, the emphasis has been on raising capital, and the team has now succeeded in tapping into a combination of public sector funding and private venture capital. So Oline is now ready to move onto the next step in the development of Tracoline and the associated company TracInnovations.