The tricorder isn’t just the stuff of Star Trek anymore
By Austen Lee | September 28, 2020
In the early 19th century, the advent of the stethoscope changed the way we listen to the heart. Two hundred years later, the health-tech startup MEDO.ai is similarly revolutionizing our use of ultrasound technology, making it more accessible and more accurate than ever before.
David Quail, vice-president of technology commercialization at MEDO, says the concept is similar to Star Trek’s tricorder, a portable device that could scan for vital signs and run diagnostics on demand. Outside the realm of science fiction, MEDO’s multidisciplinary team of engineers, scientists and clinicians are in the process of developing software that can accurately interpret ultrasound scans within seconds, providing an immediate and reliable diagnostic assistance at the point of care. This could mean significantly more efficient diagnoses of everything from musculoskeletal conditions to thyroid, liver and breast cancers, especially for those living in remote areas.
“Ultrasound as a modality is amazing,” says Quail. “It’s relatively cheap, portable, and non-invasive. The problem is that ultra-sound is incredibly hard to use. That’s the gap we’re filling.”
There’s more research to be done, but close on the horizon is the application of MEDO’s technology to detect the risk of hip dysplasia in infants. The condition, which is almost always an indicator of future osteoarthritis, affects about one per cent of the population, and is completely treatable if caught early. MEDO’s ultrasound software will streamline the detection and rapid treatment of hip dysplasia, which would make the difference between people needing hip replacements as early as their 30s or 40s. A reduction in these cases means improved quality of life for individuals, as well as less strain on the healthcare system.
In the long term, MEDO envisions its technology not only in doctors’ offices, ambulances and hospitals, but also in the hands of consumers. As ultrasound machines continue to get smaller and more portable, we might even imagine a future where anyone with a smartphone could conduct an ultrasound scan on his or her own body; this would be a game-changer for things like at-home breast exams and the detection of other diseases where prompt treatment is key, and access to expert medical care may be limited.
It’s easy to see how the innovations happening at MEDO could have a global impact, and the team hopes its software might one day be used around the world. Quail says the company will always have roots in Edmonton, since the University of Alberta is a world leader when it comes to research on artificial intelligence. The city is also home for many of MEDO’s original founders, and a great place for startups to grow.
In collaboration with its dual headquarters in Singapore, MEDO is on track to make Edmonton the birthplace of “the stethoscope of the future.”