Improving the Future of Cardiac Operations

Dr. Utku Gülan is the co-founder of Hi-D Imaging, a spinoff of the renowned ETH Zurich. The startup was founded in 2019 and aims to revolutionize pre-surgical planning in cardiology. We spoke with him to learn more about the software that predicts abnormalities in the blood flow, and ACEO®’s role in improving it.

Picture: WACKER ACEO®. 3D printed silicone heart model developed by HI-D Imaging.

ACEO®: Dr. Gülan, thank you for sharing your insights with us. Can you tell us about your professional background?

Dr. Utku Gülan: I have a background in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. from ETH Zurich on biomedical fluids dynamics, where I continued my academical career. The focus of my research for more than twelve years was the interplay between the blood flow abnormalities and the progression of cardiovascular diseases using in-vitro imaging technologies.

How did it all start with Hi-D Imaging?

I came to a point where I realized my research had the potential to significantly impact the planning and outcome of cardiac operations. My colleague, Dr. Özge Karakas, who has a doctorate degree in numerical modeling, shared my beliefs and so we decided to pivot our career and deliver the benefits of our findings directly to the patients. In 2019, we founded Hi-D Imaging as an ETH Zurich spinoff.

The company name is pronounced /ˈhaɪdi/ and a nod to its Swiss origins – you might remember the novel Heidi about a little girl taking care of her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. Moreover, the name represents what we combine: a software with high-resolution and high-dimensional medical image analysis with Swiss precision.

Which services does Hi-D Imaging offer?

We are experts in cardiac blood flow analysis and developed a software which analyzes conventional medical imaging data such as MRI, CT or Ultrasound and assesses both pre- and post-operational abnormalities in the blood flow before the cardiac operation.

The problem with today’s medical imaging procedures is that they have limitations. If a patient has an abnormality in the heart, the blood flow becomes very turbulent. It can of course be assessed but not interpreted with regards to the outcome of the cardiac operation.

We can close that gap and make predictions that increase the potential success of cardiac operations and aim to decrease post-operational problems. Our company might be young, but our technology is based on more than 12 years of research.

Picture: Hi-D Imaging. Screenshot of the in-vitro blood flow using an ACEO® 3D printed silicone model of an anatomically accurate heart with a valve dysfunction

What area would benefit the most from your technology?

Heart valve dysfunction is a very common heart disease. Despite successful operation with an implant, about one third of the patients does not fully recover. This is not related to the physicians’ skills but to the influence of different anatomies. Hence there is a need for personalized diagnosis and treatment in the clinics.

In the ideal world, the artificial heart valve needs to match the characteristics of the native valve which is unique for each patient. In reality, there are many limitations for matching physiological needs of the native valves. Particularly, for borderline cases physicians have to choose between an over- or undersized valve. We can help them decide which tailored implantation parameters will deliver the best results for the patient.

What is your vision moving forward?

Our goal is to build a bridge between physicians and medical companies in the field of cardiac operations to improve patient outcome and the quality of life. We would like to provide our technology to as many patients as possible all around the world. We will focus not only on the heart valve dysfunction but also on the coronary artery, congenital and cerebrovascular diseases in the upcoming years.

What is HiD Imaging’s impact on physicians? 

The benefits for physicians using our technology are pretty straightforward.

First of all, they can accelerate the process: Time is critical for cardiac operations. Physicians need to analyze a large amount of data to assess the scope of the procedure – a matter of only a minute for our software.

Physicians will receive high-quality data: Our software is trained with data from different state-of-the-art technologies. This ensures a most accurate analysis and prediction of the blood flow.

Last but not least, our technology opens a window to future medicine which allows accessing complimentary information on planning: Hi-D Imaging software does not replace a doctor’s decision. It provides a data-driven fundament for faster planning and more customized operations.

And how will medical companies benefit from your services?

In a nutshell: We will help them increase performance of their next-generation devices before the market release.

That means we can support medical companies with R&D consultation based on our software. This can be applied for the development of medical devices such as artificial heart valves, stents and occludes.

How does ACEO®’s technology fit into your business?

I have worked with silicone heart models for more than twelve years. At Hi-D Imaging it is essential to feed the AI model with as much information as possible. So, for each patient we physically mimic the condition of their heart with a silicone model to better understand the optimum planning.

Molding anatomically accurate phantoms is one of the options for us in the early stages. Following the latest trends in 3D printing I soon learned about ACEO® and their revolutionary technology. We got off to a great start and have been collaborating for over six months now.

The mentality of the whole team is very unique. They support us as a startup and I really appreciate the technical discussions with them, which generates a lot of learnings on both sides. Needless to say – their material has a great quality and perfectly meets the requirements for our heart models.

How has your collaboration with ACEO® evolved since the beginning?

We are using ACEO®’s 3D-printed silicone parts to improve our personalized planning strategies.

In addition, we expanded our portfolio to provide silicone models to hospitals for presurgical testing and to medical schools for education purposes, with ACEO® becoming our designated supplier.

What are the next steps for your startup?

We are proud to have had customers who put trust in us from the start. Currently, we collaborate with selected hospitals and medical companies all around the world. This gives us confidence and practical experience for the future.

We have a very clear roadmap to scale up our product and cannot wait to make a difference in the lives of the patients.

Picture: WACKER ACEO®. 3D printed silicone heart model detail, developed by HI-D Imaging.