Calgarians surge to forefront of
– Cardiac MR software developed by researchers at Calgary’s Foothills
Hospital is making waves – and sales – around the world. The software
brings to cardio imaging a quantitative rather than interpretive method
The system was developed at the hospital’s Stephenson Cardiovascular
Magnetic Resonance Centre, part of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of
Alberta. It’s said to be Canada’s leading cardiac magnetic resonance
facility and it’s rated among the top five in the world.
The centre’s director, Dr. Matthias Friedrich (pictured sitting), originally started
devising the software while in Berlin, and continued development in
“Further development and commercialization was done by Circle
Cardiovascular Imaging Inc., resulting in CMR42, a system that offers
physicians answers to their imaging questions by providing immediate
quantitative data of heart functions from a magnetic resonance cardio
image,” said chief executive Greg Ogrodnick (pictured with Dr.
The name CMR42 is a reference to science-fiction author Douglas Adams’
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the answer to life – as
calculated by a supercomputer – is 42.
In effect, the system provides answers to cardio MR questions.
What the software does, put simply, is collect data from the different
views of the heart scanned during an MRI, from volume of blood flowing
through the chambers to the muscle thickness, or tissue
The program analyzes discrepancies and structural abnormalities in the
muscle immediately, and has the potential to improve survival rates of
cardiac patients by providing information immediately from the scan,
rather than having to run additional tests.
“It is changing the way medical professionals collect data to make their
diagnosis,” said Dr. Friedrich.
“It’s all about workflow optimization,” Friedrich said. “We’re talking
about very precious time being saved by using this software.”
“The data collected by the software eliminates the need for multiple
studies – within half an hour, physicians get the same information as
collected by ultrasound and nuclear imaging,” Friedrich said. As well,
the image can be shared electronically, so a doctor in Toronto can
confer with another in Calgary within minutes.
Myocarditis is a condition that strikes young athletes, occurs often and
can have a good prognosis if caught early. The key is “early.” The
symptoms often are difficult to diagnose because they can be vague, such
as fatigue and chest pain.
“With this technology using a combined set of criteria, we can diagnose
myocarditis through images,” Friedrich said. “Using standard criteria,
myocarditis can be a silent killer.”
While not offering a cure, the software can provide early detection and
early treatment, preventing the disease from progressing, he said.
Dr. Friedrich was recruited in 2004 to establish and run the Libin
Institute’s Stephenson CMR Centre, the first dedicated cardiac magnetic
resonance centre in Canada – and North America’s largest. More than
2,000 patients a year come through the doors of the centre, or about 20
per day, making it one of the largest such centres in North America.
He had been looking at alternative computer technologies since the
mid-1990s, along with grad student Philipp Varcow in Berlin, figuring
there had to be a way to both process and evaluate a magnetic resonance
“If you move from purely physical analysis to quantitative, the
diagnosis is made quicker, more accurate and robust,” he said.
Ogrodnick joined Circle Cardiovascular in 2007 after several years of
involvement with another cardiac-related business, theheart.org. The key
ingredient to a successful health-related product is to meld business
and science, he said, as scientists are good at developing a product but
not at implementing the marketing to commercialize it.
In developing the software, more than 25,000 patient studies in North
America and Europe have been completed in 45 sites in a dozen countries.
The company raised $1.4 million through 14 private investors in 2007
when it incorporated, and was piloted in North America and Europe before
going commercial this year. “The biggest hurdle was securing regulatory
approvals in the United States, Canada and Europe,” Ogrodnick said.
The software is ISO certified, has U.S. Food and Drug Administration
approval, as well as having a Health Canada device licence. “I would
have to say it is very user-friendly,” said researcher Dr. Ingo Itel
from the centre. “Other software doesn’t have such developed tools.” The
program is compatible with any model of scanner, and can be used with
Macs or PCs.
CMR42 is relatively inexpensive: for a three-year lease, the client pays
$40,000 up front and a $25,000 maintenance fee for the next two years.
The key component of the program is having an MRI, which Friedrich
admits is more expensive than CAT scans and other tests used to diagnose
patients. However, in the long run, using cardio magnetic resonance and
the software is more cost-efficient by cutting the number of other tests
used to diagnose a patient, as well as reducing the staff hours, he
Dr. Freiderich gave the example of a patient who comes into an emergency
room complaining of chest pains. Over several days the patient could be
subjected to blood tests, ECGs and ultrasound testing, at minimum,
before a conclusive course of therapy is decided on.
In contrast, if the patient has a cardiac MRI, the physician can read
the data collected by the scanner and decide a treatment almost
immediately, reducing both patient time in hospital and staff hours.
“Yes, it is more expensive than an ultrasound, but it is more accurate
and efficient, time-wise,” he noted.
Circle Cardiovascular takes a virtual approach to staffing – the
company’s corporate office has 14 staff in Calgary, but its
vice-president of sales is in Montreal, a hub for health-care-related
software, an application specialist works from Houston, and four
developers work on the product from Berlin.
The company’s latest contract was Helios Hospital Group of Germany, a
56-hospital corporation that expects to boost its capacity for cardio
magnetic resonance to 18 facilities from eight within the next year. And
all will be using the Circle Cardiovascular Imaging technology.
“For us to have secured the contract was a big coup,” Ogrodnick said.
“The competition was pretty stiff.”
Posted October 22, 2009