How a Hack Healthcare project aims to revolutionise eye treatment with AI
We invited Sebastiaan Mindreau, Innovation Manager at AXI, to tell us a bit more about AuroSigh – a startup that came from Hack Healthcare project last year – and to share his experience as a first-time participant of an Open Innovation event by Hack Belgium Labs
What happens in Hack Belgium Labs events, does not stay in Hack Belgium Labs events. Sebastiaan Mindreau, Innovation Manager at AXI, first attended one of our hackathons last year, at Hack Healthcare 2021, and we might be able to say that he is still in hacking mode.
That’s because Sebastiaan and his teammates from the event are working together on setting up a startup for their Hack Healthcare project AuroSigh, that aims to facilitate the treatment of eye diseases with a novel technology called Optical Coherence Tomography on a chip (OCT–on-a-chip).
We talked to Sebastiaan to discover how the project has developed so far, and to know more about his impressions and favourite things about Hack Healthcare.
Let’s start by going back to a few months ago: what was yours and your team’s expectation when coming to Hack Healthcare? And was this expectation met?
Well, the AXI team and I went there with an open mind and few expectations. We thought it could be interesting to join Hack Healthcare, as AXI is trying to expand in the healthcare sector. My colleagues thought that it would be good to attend Hack Healthcare to do some networking, have some presence at the event and to see what happens there. For me, I was also interested in learning how to do these kinds of “ideathons” and how they could be set up, because we wanted to do that internally in our company as well.
And my expectations were more than met: it was a fantastic experience. People are really on fire, they are focused, and ideas come in a completely new way that you don’t have in a typical corporate context. It’s different, it’s more dynamic, so I was very pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this event and just the whole experience was very interesting.
As someone working in the technology industry and developing solutions for healthcare, how would you describe your experience of participating in an event with a plurality of players – including patients and competitors – of the healthcare industry?
The fact that there were also competitors at Hack Healthcare was okay. We didn’t have the feeling that there were too many competitors and that we were fighting for ideas. Instead, we felt that everybody was at Hack Healthcare for the experience, for the content, rather than for sales or that kind of vibe. Also, at least in our team, there was a very good mix of people, such as healthcare professionals and researchers.
What would you say it was the highlight of participating in an open innovation event by Hack Belgium Labs?
The highlight… that’s a difficult question, there were so many interesting things that happened.
The highlight, of course, is that I’m still working on a Hack Healthcare project. We are still pitching it to the Roche Innovation Board and we have a high chance of getting a startup up and running, so that’s fantastic, that’s the highlight, no doubt.
For me, another highlight was the organisation of the event itself. To see how everything came together and to see how it went smoothly, was a real treat. It gave me a lot of insight in how we can organise events at AXI in the future too. Not an easy job to get the right people around the table either!
Can you tell us a little bit about the challenge you were involved in and how it developed since the end of the first edition of Hack Healthcare?
Yes. One of my teammates started with the idea as she did a lot of research on eye diseases and found that many are untreated or not treated at the correct time.
She suggested that instead of us working on a project about the diagnosis of eye diseases, we should instead focus on following the treatment process to make sure that patients don’t have to go to the doctor every time for a follow-up and see that nothing has changed. There are some things that could be done at home – maybe not even synchronised with the doctor – through an app or AI that can detect if there’s something going in the wrong direction, so you should see your doctor a lot sooner to get more injections, for example.
And that’s what we are doing since. We are creating a platform based on a new technology called OCT-on-a-chip, that was just developed last year. OCT is a really big machine that you have at the Ophthalmologist, but with this new technology they’ve actually made it as small as a credit card. Our goal is to make that into a product that’s actually usable and handheld.
We are not there yet as there are still a few years of research ahead of us, but we want to make new steps towards bringing a portable device (to examine the eye) – not with the OCT technology yet -, but currently with a fundus camera. There’s an Indian company already doing that in India and in the US, but that has no reach in the European market yet. We are going to try to actually position here with what they already have – which is the AI and the lighting modules -, introduce OCT-on-a-chip there as well and then bring that to the market in a few years.
Roche was one of the head sponsors of Hack Healthcare last year and they were very interested in this idea. They have an Ophthalmology Department, so they were really looking into how we can do this and they actually have already signed up for part of the first 15 months of our startup. They are offering a big chunk of money to fund us, but we’re still looking for other investors because it’s still not enough. But it’s all going really, really well from that point of view.