Mississippi, Texas partnership pioneers medical imaging
by Stephen McDill
Published: April 26,2013
It could be a possible knockout blow to pencils and protractors.
Oxford businessman Paul Gunnoe says a new technology that’s “an EKG for the spine” will help revolutionize how spine specialists help patients.
Vertebral motion analysis (VMA) tests developed by Texas-based medical imaging informatics company Ortho Kinematics Inc. are FDA-cleared, insurance-approved, non-invasive tests that combine fluoroscopy with X-ray videos to capture the spine in motion while its working.
“The spine is the second most troubled spot in the body next to the heart but unlike the heart there has not been development on the diagnostic side,” Gunnoe says.
The Ole Miss biology graduate turned healthcare executive was named CEO of the privately-funded Austin company last fall and was recently appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to the state medical care advisory committee.
Gunnoe says the processed scans from Ortho Kinematics are breakthrough technology that will lead to more accurate diagnoses and treatment procedures for patients suffering from a host of spinal issues.
“We still diagnose and treat the back today as we did in the 1940s which seems ridiculous given today’s technology,” he says.
Five Ortho Kinematics VMA machines are currently deployed at test sites in four states, including two in Mississippi at the Southern Neurologic & Spinal Institute in Hattiesburg and NewSouth NeuroSpine in Flowood. It’s the final step for a company that’s projected to move from tech startup to mainstream commercialization this summer.
“With Ortho Kinematics we get an X-ray video of the spine moving,” says NewSouth neurosurgeon Dr. Jack Moriarity. “The patient stands and lies down and the machine helps them bend and stretch so we can control their motion better. “It’s a much more sophisticated study than we’ve used in the past.”
Gunnoe says once the tests are completed the images are uploaded to a HPPA-compliant cloud system that uses facial recognition-like software to grab all the images of the vertebra and stitch them together.
“Right now we turn images around in 24 to 48 hours,” Gunnoe says. “The new platform will allow us to push them out in a couple of hours.” The company profits from a “pay per click” model based on how many images they process for a each clinic.
Once the images are processed and sent back to NewSouth, doctors like Moriarity can access and analyze the video digitally and measure the degrees and quantify motion in the back to identify physiological stress and pain sourcing.
Ortho Kinematics says the study dramatically increases accuracy and precision when compared with traditional static light board images and pencil and protractor measurements. The tests also will identify false positives and negatives and help patients find the right surgery sooner, making the process smoother for the patient as well as insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare.
“If you’re not imaging in controlled motion there’s too much variability,” Gunnoe says.
Ortho Kinematics founder Adam Deitz was working as a medical products consultant and strategist when he learned about British researcher Dr. Alan Breen of the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC) and Breen’s patent on a piece of hardware that helped with spine tests.
“(Dr. Breen) had invented it and patented it but that was all,” Deitz says. The Dallas-born UT Austin electrical engineering graduate negotiated with the AECC board of directors for the rights to the technology. While the core of the device remains the same it has been rebuilt and re-engineered, with Ortho Kinematics filing six additional patents since Breen’s original one in 2002.
“We have nationally and internationally sole rights to any device that controls motion of any joint in the body during any formatted image,” Gunnoe says. “Nobody can image any joint in a controlled motion in the body without violating our patents.”
Resembling the undercarriage and blade cover of a riding lawnmower when its in storage, the Ortho Kinematics VMA machine can stand vertically or be laid horizontally on an exam table where it slowly flexes patients that are strapped in, bending them a few degrees at the hips in any direction. The machine is hooked to a computer monitor where proprietary software displays the rendered images, their range of motion and additional points of interest along the spinal column.
Dietz says the next steps for Ortho Kinematics are looking for more investment partners and developing evidence through clinical studies that would reset guidelines to include the new tests.
“The technology has every characteristic it needs to become the new standard of care for the type of testing that we do,” he says.
While he continues to drive financing and business models for Ortho Kinematics and its VMA tests, Gunnoe says he’s happy Mississippi is taking advantage of Texas’ booming medical economy.
“It’s my backyard and I’m going to make sure we’re taken care of,” he says.
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