During COVID-19, Israeli Innovation Strikes Again

March 25, 2020

Since its inception, Israelis have embodied the concept that necessity is the mother of all invention. The entrepreneurial Israeli spirit has led to valuable contributions to address global challenges in science, technology and engineering. During this global crisis, the “Start-up Nation” continues to generate innovations that address the most pressing challenges.

COVID-19 has disrupted life around the globe and has uncovered many challenges in healthcare – including the need, here in the United States, for access to tests.  In the absence of those tests, and on a mission to gather more vital information about the virus, one Israeli company is utilizing its technology to help clinicians better understand the effects that the novel coronavirus is having on patients’ lungs.

Surgical Theater, co-founded by Israelis and based in Cleveland and Los Angeles, has harnessed expertise from the Israeli Air force to create a virtual flight simulator for brain surgeons.  The powerful technology allows doctors to practice their mission multiple times before ever touching their patients.  It has expanded to include multiple areas of the anatomy, including the thoracic region.

In the wake of the global pandemic, the team at Surgical Theater has been working with Dr. Keith Mortman, Director of Thoracic Surgery at George Washington University Hospital.  They have successfully rendered the first 360֯ Virtual Reality representation of COVID-19 infection from images of an actual patient’s lungs.

The virtual model, built from a patient’s CAT-scan, reveals a stark contrast to more common pneumonic infections, where the geography of inflammation is often restricted to individual lobes of lung tissue, and usually only one lung at a time.  Covid-19, however, appears to attack multiple lobes, often bilaterally, and simultaneously.   You can see the virtual model at COVID19Lungs.

“The information, rendered from an actual COVID-19 patient’s thoracic CAT-scan, provides specific data that can be vitally important for medical providers, as well as researchers, as we seek to achieve better comprehension of, and treatment modalities for this dangerous infection”, said Moty Avisar, CEO and Co-founder of Surgical Theater.  “Additionally, it can provide important visualization for patients and their families, allowing for greater understanding of the processes at play.”

“What you’re seeing in the video, essentially the blue part is the more normal lung, but anything you’re seeing that’s yellow is lung that’s being destroyed by the virus,” said Mortman. “One of the big problems is it’s really a one-two punch. So it starts with the initial insult from the virus, but then the body’s way of trying to contain it is by creating inflammation, by trying to surround it in a sense. So what you’re seeing in yellow is both viral infection as well as inflammation in the lungs. And it’s that one-two punch, that’s why far too many of these patients have trouble with their breathing or getting short of breath. And that’s a symptom that can come on quite rapidly to the point where some of these patients require hospital admission, being put on a breathing tube, or being put on a ventilator.”

Mortman feels the images hold a powerful message for members of the public.

“It’s really to educate them. So for those people out there who are still not heeding the warnings, not staying home, not taking precautions, not washing their hands – I really want them to be able to see this and understand the damage that’s being done to the lungs and the severity of the disease that this is causing. And why it’s so important that we all take these precautions,” he said. “This is really a community problem and it’s going to take a community effort to solve it.”

The immersive technology was recently featured during the Innovation Showcase at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Watch it here.

As the virus continues to disrupt daily life, we all need to find creative and innovative ways to deal with challenges old and new.  It is no surprise that a country with a reputation for being first responders for disaster relief, and whose national anthem “Hatikvah” literally to translates to the word “hope,” will continue to do what they do best.

Diana Judovits is the Chief Strategy Officer for EmergeCXO and Empower 360 Foundation.

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