From research to product launch: Ardim creates accessible ultrasound

As a postdoc at Radboudumc, Thomas van den Heuvel performs research within the field of medical image analysis. He specialised in the use of hand-held ultrasound scans with the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, he has made the leap from science to actually bringing his solution to the market. And that comes with quite a few challenges.

Thomas has a vision to lighten the load on healthcare. By making medical imaging accessible, he wants to help GPs and paediatricians, primary care givers, to enable imaging-based diagnosis at the point-of-care. “The workload in hospitals is simply too great. We can’t continue as we are currently doing. To avoid unnecessary hospital visits, we have to be able to provide the right care at the right place. Thanks to software that automatically detects risks, a primary care giver needs little extra training to be able to use the ultrasound.”

From developing countries to primary care in the Netherlands: many applications

Ultrasound devices that can be connected to a smartphone have become available in the past six years. Thomas has been researching the use of AI to interpret ultrasound images for years. The software application that he is developing, will help doctors to perform an ultrasound examination with a minimal amount of training.

For example, during his PhD research, he helped midwives in developing countries with no experience in ultrasounds, to perform prenatal ultrasound screening. With just two hours of training and the help of AI, a midwife is able to acquire ultrasound images, which are interpreted by the algorithm to detect pregnancy risk factors.

A year ago, Thomas also started looking into other applications for his technique. Currently, he is working on bringing his first solution to market. “An integrated AI solution on your smartphone for medical image analysis offers a lot of opportunities. We have chosen two propositions to focus on, for now. Putting the research into practice, is what I like best,” says Thomas. On 1 October, 2021 he founded his company Ardim.

From investments to intellectual property

Entrepreneurship entails much more than just a good idea, so Thomas went to Briskr for workshops and networking. “Bringing this product to market goes far beyond research and making it technically sound. You have to deal with investments, certification, drawing up a clear business plan, gathering a team, you name it. Then it’s nice to have something like Briskr to guide you.” Among other things, Thomas attended workshops on intellectual property and valuation. “Patenting software, like AI algorithms, is not that straight forward, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a patent strategy. And determining how to really know what your start-up is worth and how to create value to bring in investments, is essential.”.

Briskr is the community to be for MedTech start-ups

Thomas started his research at the Department of Medical Imaging of the Radboudumc in Nijmegen, from which a couple of spinoffs with AI proposition emerged before. “Having predecessors helps a lot.” He also benefits greatly from Briskr’s community. “Briskr is broader oriented, it’s all about MedTech across the region. Running into likeminded people is so important, you get to pick their brains. I also benefit from the courses and workshops that cover a great variety of topics that you need to know about when you are starting up your business. It is a very nice community that is very valuable for a start-up company. If you are a MedTech start-up in Nijmegen and you have not heard of Briskr, you are doing something wrong”, he laughs.