MediVis interviewed by Justin Hendrix, Executive Director of NYC Media Lab

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Recently I sat down with Osamah Choudhry and Christopher Morley, the CEO and COO, respectively, of New York City augmented reality startup MediVis. Choudhry, a neurosurgeon, and Morley, a radiologist, formed the company to advance medical visualization to the next generation by experimenting with mixed reality and augmented reality. The team is working predominantly with Microsoft’s Hololens. I asked them questions about the company, and about starting an augmented reality company in New York. (Be sure to check out the explainer video below!)

How did MediVis come together?

Osamah Choudhry: We met at NYU Medical Center. Chris and I both worked there as residents in our respective programs. We're senior residents. Initially, we worked together kind of academically. It was just a passion of ours on the side. Then we did some tremendous work with the engineering team, and in June of 2016, after participating in NYU’s Summer Launchpad program, we decided to launch the company.

Christopher Morley: The past six months has been full grind because we've finally wrapped our heads around the technology a little bit more, so we've been able to accelerate. We have a robust prototype at this point. We're starting to be able to actually reach out and show people, and get feedback, so that's been exciting. Just today, I was able to take actual studies, CT and MRI data, that are coming off the scanner and visualize them in mixed reality. This is new for everybody. I was able to share that experience with some people today and just get immediate feedback. People were really taken back by it. They had never seen it before. It's really powerful.


Can you describe the software that you are developing?

Choudhry:  We’re focused predominantly on the HoloLens. We're trying to bridge two worlds. Medicine has used visualization in a certain way for decades. They've used their own formats, so to speak, and their standards and protocols, which have all been based on producing two-dimensional imaging. Our job now is to take all of that data and all of that information that is available and create something that's very natural and intuitive in a three-dimensional world.

You're a surgeon and a radiologist. How do you convince people who have been doing things the same way for a long time to put something on their head, and use it?

Choudhry:   Medicine has traditionally always been one of those markets, it's always been one of those fields, where change is never rapid. It takes generations for people to change the way they're doing things. Our focus has always been, if you create a product or technology that delivers something that can bring a new perception of human anatomy and human pathology and human disease, and a new more powerful way of understanding of it, that others will embrace it. With increased quality will often come reduction in costs and greater healthcare provider confidence. Our goal is just to develop the technology that will enable people to perceive the disease that their patient has on a higher level, and for them to be more prepared in tackling that disease.

Morley:   The entire mission is closing gaps in understanding. On a more concrete level, it's things like scrolling through two-dimensional datasets and having to use your mind's eye to understand complex nuances and spatial relationships. There's a tumor here, and here's the vessel that we need to avoid, and things like that. As a radiologist I am trained to visualize 2D images. Seeing images in three-dimensional space, it's just very intuitive. You're able to really just grasp something instantly, and understand we're going to actually need to go from this approach, or in this particular vessel, that's a sharp turn. We may need this other type of catheter. Things like that. It's about preparedness and just actually looking at things as they truly are.

Do you imagine using these technologies in the operating room?

Choudhry: Oh, absolutely. This morning I did an operation. It was a young lady with a benign tumor at the skull base, which is a very intricate area. There are many critical nerves and blood vessels coursing through that area. Traditionally, the way we, as surgeons, prepare for these cases, is we look at these same cross-sections. We try to build a picture in our mind's eye and then we go and see what we find in the operating room. I think humans, just by their very nature, the way we perceive the world from a visual-spatial perspective is with depth, is with this third dimension.

Morley: Right now, we're focused really on three main things: surgical planning, potentially, ideally, we're going to be going into navigation, and then patient engagement in the second, and the third really important one is medical education.

What's holding New York back from seeing more health and medicine-related VR and AR companies?

Morley:  There's a few concrete things, right, the hardware we're using is $3,000. Right off the bat- it's expensive to prototype. That's an immediate barrier that's going to be there for a little while.

Choudhry: First, I think, when it comes to VR and AR, there's always been a consumer focus first, a gaming focus, and so the practical applications of the technology haven't been the first to be introduced to the public, and the community at large. It really takes people in our community, such as ourselves, that always had a profound interest in that technology to be able to see its potential in our fields as well.

In New York, it's moving in the right direction, but there's always been this bridge between medicine and engineering. All of the ingredients are here, and we always joke that it's actually an incredible environment to be in, just because Manhattan alone has four of the world's best academic medical centers. The venture capital, the financial situation in New York has never been better, and then we have great engineering talent as well. For engineering, when it comes to computer engineering, you don't need a ton of space. What you need is creative and smart individuals who know what they're doing. As long as you have those ingredients, something powerful can come out. This is powerful technology, but if it's not packaged in the right way, if the right user experience isn't present there, then it's not going to work for the physician and the clinician who needs this technology.