Dream of a smarter needle
Riitta Suuronen (Prof. MD, DDS, PhD), Katja Paassilta (Engineering student at that time) and Jari Hyttinen (Prof. PhD) were collaborating in med tech research at Tampere University of Technology and Tampere University School of Medicine. Safety considerations related to blind punctures such as avoiding nerve damage or tissue damage met with academic research on bio-impedance that demonstrated interesting variations in different tissues. Cross-functional team discussions lead to a conceptual idea about measuring bioimpedance from needle tip to improve safety of blind punctures and Katja had the opportunity to pursue and study the idea in her MSc thesis in 2004.
The vision about a smarter needle had been established. One day the needle shall tell the physician what type of the tissue is around the tip of the needle.
Smart needle lived on in Tampere University of Technology with Katja, Riitta and Jari. The early prototypes at consisted of hand-made insulated needles and later needles that were insulated with ALD (atom deposition layer) – method. These prototypes didn’t provide obvious route forward, even though they supported the idea that the working products could be made. Commercial Biopack and Solartron measurement devices were used during early research.
Favourable setting for turning academic research to start-up developed in 2010 when serial entrepreneur Kai Kronström came across the vision. Kai assembled a small team to pursue the vision as a start-up company from autumn 2010. Advisors and angel investors provided knowledge and resources for the small team and Injeq started the work to develop a proof of concept. First priority initially was to work on commercially viable needle design and production techniques.
Having ability to manufacture a bit more than handful needles enabled ex-vivo and initial in-vivo animal testing which indicated that certain assumptions of the measurement technology were not quite so trivial as initially thought. A new project was started in 2012 to develop a better measurement device. Quadra™ technology by Eliko Oü provided a solid technology base for development work.
In the beginning a PC based algorithms and data storage with a connected measurement device was used because it had flexibility due to separate development of the parts. A clinical study in intra-articular injections with promising results was done with this equipment in 2014-15. Development for integrating the parts continued in parallel with the clinical studies.
Clear vision had been that at the end of the development an easy to use stand-alone device should be connected to the needle. In 2015 integrated analyzer device had reached sufficient maturity to initiate clinical studies on spine structures.
Injeq team continued needle research and the work culminated to a bi-polar needle concept in which needle tube provides one electrode and an insulated stylet provides the second electrode. This design is still considered the best trade-off between manufacturability and real-time measurement abilities.