It was 1993 when young engineer Avi Yaron was asked to visit a neurologist by his father after a car accident. The first doctor confirmed he had a tumor and surgery was required right away. Realizing there could be potential complications, Yaron decided to seek a second opinion. The second neurosurgeon said his tumor was of no immediate danger and he was asked to come back for another MRI in three months. Armed with query and disbelief, Yaron consulted a third doctor, this time he was asked to undergo a biopsy to determine whether the tumor was malignant. 

Yaron was shocked, he did not know how to proceed and it had never occurred to him he would be receiving three disparate, inconsistent diagnoses from three experts. Like most modern patients out there, rather than depending on others to decide his fate, he became “his own doctor” and began a series of learning about the body’s anatomy and basic medicine and reading on his own condition. After a year of hard work, Yaron discovered his tumor located in the ventricle was exceptionally rare; roughly 20 cases around the world, and it was known as the Neurocytoma. 

Yaron was shocked, he did not know how to proceed and it had never occurred to him he would be receiving three disparate, inconsistent diagnoses from three experts. Like most modern patients out there, rather than depending on others to decide his fate, he became “his own doctor” and began a series of learning about the body’s anatomy and basic medicine and reading on his own condition. After a year of hard work, Yaron discovered his tumor located in the ventricle was exceptionally rare; roughly 20 cases around the world, and it was known as the Neurocytoma. 

The road to innovate 

Yaron contacted Dr. Patrick Kelly, Entrepreneur, Neurosurgeon, and Chairman at New York University at that time, who had successfully operated on eight Neurocytoma cases using his computer-assisted brain surgery invention. The technology simulates the whole surgery beforehand using a 3D stereoscope and virtual reality, to ascertain the procedure to be done in a minimally invasive way in the actual setting. Yaron was free but he also learnt there was remnant. 

Dr. Kelly could not remove the remaining bits of the tumor unless a miniature stereoscopic camera which allows him to examine deeper into the brain is being invented. That becomes the goal for Yaron for the next two years as he went on to study about the brain and stereoscopy. He found common optical instruments like lenses and microscopes have diffraction limit, this means resolutions will be compromised when they continue to focus light into nanometer scales. There are optomechanical stereoscopes available as an alternative but all of which required a bigger opening to the brain. Yaron thought he could do something about it so he left his job and hired a physicist at his own expense to develop a solution. 

This was how the company Visionsense began. Yaron took his inspiration from insects; in most instance, each insect’s eye is a collation of many different “eyes” which concentrates on different areas to form a more holistic perception of an object or environment. As for mammals, the brain will register the differences in angles between the two eyes to perceive depth. Yaron and his team combined the two unique properties and developed a 3-milimeter chip made up of an array of 800,000 lenses that take in light and distribute it into specific volumetric pathways. There was also an image-processing algorithm to reconstruct the image into 3D. 

Not alone 

In 2014, venture capitalist Trish Costello started a platform – Portfolia, mainly to support women’s health startups. She believes, “if women want specific companies in the world that address their needs, the only way to do that is for women to become the investors”. The goal of the platform is to bring 100,000 investors on board by 2022. Thus far, there are more than 10,000 and they are investing between $10,000 and $100,000. Costello admitted it’s frustrating to notice the existing system is not built for and by women, even though they may be one of the biggest buyers. 

This in turn, created many doors and Costello became the mentors of dozens of women in venture capital. Like the way patients are looking for solutions on their own, Costello thought these women need appropriate support and guidance. Most importantly, a foundation for them to understand “what women’s financial and investment power is”. Surely, Yaron and Portfolia are not the only one who turned personal adversities into opportunities.

Previously, AIMed had covered stories of patients who are changing clinical trials through social media support groups; patients’ unique perspectives of artificial intelligence (AI) and new technologies; how they may transform into digital entrepreneurs, how to empower patients in this new era and so on. We believe new technologies will not only change medicine but the entire medical landscape. 

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.