How to win future battles against disease - Four case studies (Part 1)?
March 5, 2019
In 2020, the sudden onset of COVID-19 blindsided the world and forced many of us to put normal life “on hold.” Inevitably, events of this magnitude will always be closely scrutinized and reviewed once they have passed. As the Chinese saying goes, “thinking about pain afterwards” helps find solutions to prevent or mitigate pain in the future. The battle against COVID-19 is not yet over, but the “post-mortems” have already started.
One of the pain points people are focusing on is the modern healthcare system that we once relied on, and were even proud of. With the sudden massive impact of COVID-19 on public health, the system’s weaknesses were exposed. Painful experiences such as the imbalance between healthcare providers and patients, as well as delays in testing, diagnosis and information collection, have made people think seriously about how the future healthcare system should be restructured. This is more than just a belated response to the challenges of the current pandemic. It has been deemed a matter of vital importance to put safety measures and action plans in place in anticipation of future outbreaks of unpredictable diseases.
In particular, the idea of using IoT technology to deploy healthcare resources more efficiently, to cover a wider population and to provide more convenient treatment services, has gained traction. It could potentially provide end users with the healthcare resources that have been traditionally centralized in professional healthcare facilities such as hospitals. By “degentrifying” professional healthcare resources, medical services that are currently expensive and out of the reach of many could become accessible.
In fact, trials of products that embody this central idea have been ongoing for some time. With the COVID-19 pandemic, demand has escalated and so has research and development.
However, as we all know, the success of a new product depends on many factors. In terms of technology, a good idea must overcome various challenges before it can be developed into a market-ready product. A single oversight or misstep may cause the product to fall behind and lose the “race” as it is overtaken by competitors’ products.
So, how can we avoid the risks and increase our chances of winning the race? For starters, we can learn from success stories. Let’s look at four successful Avnet partner case studies in the healthcare sector.
Case 1: A key camera module
Breast cancer is a hidden risk for women’s health. Early detection and early treatment are seen as critical for better breast cancer recovery rates. Previously, breast cancer screening had to be done at professional healthcare organizations with specialized equipment. Hence screening frequency was compromised for many women, since it was a “bothersome” process. Yet a longer-than-ideal interval between screenings opens a window for the condition to develop, and optimal treatment time to be lost.
To address this situation, Braster S.A., a company in Poland, proposed a bold idea – to capture thermal images of abnormal mammary gland tissue with a portable device that displays the information intuitively on an LCD panel. Users are then able to perform self-checks at home as part of their daily lives, and if they find signs of tumor cells, they can act immediately and obtain the earliest treatment possible.
Figure 1 Braster Pro portable breast screening device (Source: Braster)
Once the product was developed and clinical trials completed, the device was pronounced effective and 100% safe. The non-radiative, painless and convenient self-screening method quickly gained approval from markets. However, with new opportunities come new challenges. Early in 2016, Braster S.A. signed a contract with a Dutch product design company to use their equipment for prototype and mass production. Meanwhile, Braster S.A. had already promised investors that the product would enter the general market by the end of the year. Time was of the essence.
The gap between prototype machine/trial production and commercial batch delivery was still considerable. The biggest challenge faced by Braster S.A. at the time was to find a suitable camera module as soon as possible, since it would be the key factor in determining image-capturing quality and had to meet product technology and standard requirements. Since time was running out, it was impossible for Braster S.A. to choose materials, make assessments, decide on the form, and mass-produce in accordance with regular procedures. It was at this critical juncture that they sought the help of Avnet Belgium.
On receiving the client’s brief, Avnet carefully analyzed the design requirements for a special embedded visualization solution, and reviewed different camera modules to provide the best image quality. Avnet subsequently recommended an experienced camera module company that could not only customize camera modules with precise technology standards, but would also optimize the whole process according to Braster’s applications. Better still, it came with cost advantages. The problem was solved and the deadline was met.
While choosing a camera module might seem simple enough, the pressure of a looming deadline can lead to poor or hasty decision-making. With extensive product portfolios and professional experience providing key functions at key moments, Avnet became the “key person” in this case. Through this successful collaboration, Braster S.A. was able to take its portable breast screening device to an international market beyond Poland and achieve success beyond all expectations.
Case 2: “Bonding” innovative technology and products
“Degentrifying” professional diagnostic devices was the motivation behind Braster S.A. team’s innovative breast self-check device in Case 1. Not surprisingly, many others had similar ideas, including the Canadian company Clarius. In their case, their focus was the ultrasonic scanning equipment that you can typically see being wheeled around hospitals in pushcarts. Their goal was to put this equipment into users’ pockets, with the images displayed on their smartphones. If successful, it could make a huge impact on the US$6 billion ultrasound market.
However, as Clarius knew only too well, a professional healthcare device will not sell on the strength of its innovative concept or attractive form alone. It must be “perfect.”
From experience, Clarius knew that medical device development was already full of challenges, and miniaturizing a device complicated the process further. Going forward required more than its internal resources could handle, so stronger external assistance was needed. And so Clarius came to Avnet in pursuit of perfection.
On meeting the Avnet team, the Clarius team immediately asked – what’s the best technology for this novel ultrasonic device? And – how can technology help shrink that huge bunch of ‘stuff’ to the size of a smartphone?
In the course of lengthy and numerous discussions, Avnet tapped its expertise to provide Clarius with the latest technological solutions to support its groundbreaking innovation. For example, Avnet recommended Xilinx’s Zynq All Programmable SoC as the key analysis and accelerator chip for system design. The dual-core FPGA microprocessor with built-in CPU, DSP, ASSP, and mixed-signal functions was ideally suited to accommodate the demands of system miniaturization design.
Even more importantly, this led to Clarius meeting the development team behind Xilinx’s Zynq platform. By leveraging the relationship between Avnet and Xilinx, they received access to some then-unpublicized technology at a competitive price. No doubt this sped up product landing of Clarius’s hand-held wireless ultrasonic scanner, which achieved its goal of being feasible, portable and sellable.
Figure 2 Clarius’s hand-held wireless ultrasonic scanner (Source: Avnet)
According to Clairus, Avnet is adept at helping its partners overcome technological challenges by proposing innovative solutions and sharing its expertise. Furthermore, the various innovative technologies that Avnet recommended were perfectly aligned with Clarius’s receptiveness to new technologies. The company wants not only to satisfy the needs of today, but also to prepare for those of tomorrow.
Clarius’s wireless ultrasonic scanner is now being sold across the world, and its applications are expanding day by day. It could be used for on-site diagnosis at a ski resort in Canada, and it could show up for newborn baby Zika studies in a small village in Haiti. Step by step, Clarius is closing in on its dream – to turn the hand-held wireless ultrasonic scanner into a must-have for each and every practitioner, just like stethoscopes.
Everyone knows that innovative ideas require innovative technology to become possible. Yet, the “bonding” of the two does not occur on its own. An efficient and reliable “bonding medium” is required to marry ideas with technology. In this case, Avnet was that bonding medium.
The healthcare system of the future is being built on the foundations of technology-driven innovations like those of Braster S.A. and Clarius. In the next article, we will share more of such cases for the purpose of inspiring the innovations that will soon transform healthcare and save lives.
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Avnet smart healthcare webinarDate: July 22, 2020 Location: Webinar