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How 3D printing could save children's lives

Nidhin Laji has developed a 3D modelling programme for heart surgery in newborn children which could save lives. It provides surgeons in the operating theatre with a tailored map in procedures where survivability depends on the technical accuracy of minuscule incisions. He was awarded £5,000 funding and three months of intensive business growth support with The Bradfield Centre.

Nidhin is a first-year doctor at Addenbrooke’s who has recently graduated from King’s College London last summer. Over last few years he has developed an interest in medical innovation and tech, especially with regards to imaging. Nidhin is one of the youngest fellows of the NHS England Clinical Entrepreneur Program. Since moving to Cambridge, Nidhin has been working with a team of Cambridge PhD students through the Judge Business School’s EnterpriseTECH program, to assess the commercial opportunity of his software.

Nidhin initially developed the core algorithm in collaboration with Dr Pablo Lamta’s cardiac modelling group at St Thomas’ Hospital. "Cardiac physiology is a fascinating topic, especially when it comes to children, as their anatomy is far more complex than adults". Anything can go wrong, which makes corrective surgery extremely high stakes, and doctors need every bit of help available to them. This is where Nidhin saw an opportunity for further improvement on existing techniques: “It's easy to fall in love with the topic because it's a great cause, the anatomy is so interesting, and tech is so cutting edge.”

Nidhin has a bold entrepreneurial vision, as he wants to create an entire market and industry around advanced surgical planning for congenital disease. His strategy is to first focus on cardiac problems. Once the product is a proven success for its current application (Aortic Arch Reconstruction in the Norwood procedure), the team will then begin applying the technology to other cardiac defects that can benefit from surgical planning such as Ventricular Septal Defects (VSDs) and Atrial Septal Defects (ASDs). After this, the team will explore applications for other organ systems such as kidney and bowel diseases.

There is so much potential for the product, as Nidhin says: “the use case is obvious to me because the surgery it assists with is really high stakes with such a small margin for error. The tech is there and everything is ready to use. It’s just that no one has yet put it together in such a way that surgeons are comfortable using it on a day to day basis.”

These are the long term aims, however, and Nidhin is very much focused on the present. With the funding from The Trinity Bradfield Prize, the first step is to secure a patent so he has a core tangible asset. He then aims to start engaging surgical champions who are willing to conduct trials and do a proof of concept study. The final goal is to start raising the funding needed to validate it and get through regulatory hurdles.

Nidhin heard of The Trinity Bradfield Prize in passing from a friend only 48h before the deadline. Despite knowing that competition would be fierce, the whole team got behind efforts and helped formulate the winning application. “You have to roll the dice so many times that you will eventually roll a six. People only remember the ones that you win.” The team were excited to find the project, which was conceived in London, and based in Cambridge. The support from Judge Business School, Primera Impact, Trinity College, and the Bradfield Centre has been a great example of the rich support network open to Cambridge Entrepreneurs.

Overall Nidhin enjoyed the application process. The first step was very easy to submit as the questions were succinct and straight to the point. “I think entrepreneurs can potentially get caught up in their own narrative and can give too much information.”

Dante McGrath, leader of the EnterpriseTECH consulting group assisting the project, recalls how the review stage, hosted by the judges, really allowed them to clarify what they wanted to get out of the prize and what it could do to help them after the initial win. “The plans for the near future after winning will be to take full advantage of the collaborative network the award sponsors provided”. Three months incubation at the Bradfield Centre will be used as a learning process and for its many connections to get in contact with key figures who will be able to help Nidhin grow and scaleup.

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