Vanderbilt spinoff company adds to local high-tech growth

Neurotargeting, LLC has been awarded a three-year $2.7 million grant to continue development of an integrated solution for the treatment and management of patients undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS) procedures for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

Benoit Dawant

The Nashville company was founded in October 2007 by two Vanderbilt University engineers and a Vanderbilt University Medical Center neurosurgeon to license and bring to market some of the technology developed at Vanderbilt.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) award – a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase II grant – will allow Neurotargeting to hire locally three engineers with expertise in software engineering, image processing, databases and information technology. A sub-award will permit hiring another engineer at Vanderbilt.

The co-founders of Neurotargeting are Benoit Dawant, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering, professor of electrical engineering and Director of the Vanderbilt Initiative in Surgery and Engineering (ViSE), and ViSE members Pierre-Francois D’Haese, research assistant professor of electrical engineering and CEO of Neurotargeting, and Peter Konrad, associate professor of neurosurgery.

Pierre D'Haese

For more than 10 years and with NIH funding, this Vanderbilt interdisciplinary group has developed a system that facilitates the pre-operative, intra-operative, and post-operative phases of DBS procedures. The system which consists of a data  repository called CranialVault and of a suite of software tools called  CranialVault Explorer (CRAVE), is the first system designed to provide assistance for all phases of the procedure, from preoperative planning to surgical implantation and device programming.

CranialVault stores information on patients who have undergone a DBS procedure. This includes pre- and post-operative images such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies, preoperative surgical plans, position of the final implants, as well as the location and data related to the microelectrode recordings acquired during the surgery or patient’s responses to neuronal stimuli. With this data, the team creates three dimensional statistical maps called atlases that show the probability of a region to produce a good outcome or undesirable side effects if stimulated.

Peter Konrad

CRAVE is a sophisticated suite of software interface tools that assist a DBS team in reaching the optimal implantation location before and during the surgery  and in selecting the optimal programming settings after the surgery.

In the surgery planning phase, the statistical maps stored in CranialVault are morphed to the patient images to individualize the information provided by the system. This includes showing to the surgeon places in a particular patient where an implant is likely to be efficient or induce undesirable side effects or showing three dimensional renderings of key anatomical structures used when selecting an implantation trajectory.

During surgery, the surgical team uses CRAVE to retrieve or enter patient information into CranialVault. In the programming phase, which usually happens one month after the procedure, the neurologists use CRAVE to visualize the position of the implant with respect to anatomic structures and regions of efficacy and side effects. They use this information to assist them in selecting the optimal programming settings.

Using Dawant's guidance system and other innovations, such as guidance platforms made using rapid prototyping techniques, Konrad, on the left, and his neurosurgery team have drastically reduced the time it takes to implant electrodes.

CranialVault and CRAVE have been used clinically at Vanderbilt for a number of years as a clinical prototype. In 2009, Neurotargeting was awarded an NIH STTR Phase I grant to evaluate the commercial viability of Vanderbilt’s technology. With the initial funding, the company licensed Vanderbilt’s technology and commercialized components of the system. Success of the Phase I led to the Phase II award.

The Phase II award provides Neurotargeting with the resources required to transform the system in place at Vanderbilt into a system that can be deployed and used at other institutions that do not have Vanderbilt’s research infrastructure. By the end of this project, the company will have developed a complete solution for DBS procedures that will have been cleared by the FDA and be ready for commercialization.

Because the STTR funding mechanism requires that some component of the work be done at Vanderbilt, the company and university will continue to work closely to integrate technological and scientific advances made at Vanderbilt into the commercial solution.

“This is very exciting for us,” Dawant said. “Thanks to this award, we will be able to translate the result of more than 10 years of work into a clinical system that will make leading-edge research technology available to a large number of patients and advance the treatment of neurological disorders in the U.S. and abroad.

“This is a very good example of successful interdisciplinary research made possible by the close proximity of the engineering and medical schools at Vanderbilt.”