AI for Good blog

Meet ROPCA: The start-up that automates the process of ultrasound imaging and image assessment

Robotics for Good

By Irina Timoshenko

The latest International Telecommunication Union AI For Good Innovation Factory is supporting start-ups that are using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to solve sustainable development challenges. ROPCA were the finalists of our recent live pitching session, with an AI-powered robotics solution to create an automated system for locating and ultrasound scanning hand joints on Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. To find out more about ROPCA watch the video below:

We spoke to Johannes Schäeferhoff, CEO of ROPCA about this winning solution.

Here are five things you should know about the AI for Good Innovation Factory winner:

1- Can you tell us about your winning solution?

The Co-Founders T. Rajeeth Savarimuthu, PhD, a leader in medical AI and robotics, and Søren A. Just, MD and PhD, a published and peer reviewed Rheumatologist, met at a parent meeting of their kids.

They found the problem of Rheumatoid Arthritis a very big and worthy challenge. Originally the robot was going to only on hold a patient’s arm. As Rajeeth saw that the technological window opening, Søren kept pushing for more capability in the robot. This drive forward turned into the ARTHritis Ultrasound Robot (ARTHUR). They were then approached by investors and the Robotic Platform for Clinical Automation (ROPCA) was born as a company. Last year when we were approaching the CE Mark I was brought on as CEO

2- Where are you from and what regions do you work in?

We are from Odense, Denmark. The little-known Robot Capital of Europe. We work in several Danish Hospitals and plan to soon enter Germany and then the UK.

3- How can your solution help to solve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

In short we help solve Goals 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing and 5 – Gender Equality. The ARTHritis Ultrasound Robot (ARTHUR) is a productivity tool in the area of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), a disease with one of the heaviest disease burdens of our time.

Image Credits: ROPCA

RA is a debilitating and painful disease that affects people in their best working years. It is chronic and 8 weeks after symptom onset irreparable bone erosion starts to take place. One in three patients cannot work and many have long sick leaves from work. Patients lose their ability to participate in normal social life. It affects women 3 time more than men and puts them at a significant disadvantage. Surprisingly the drugs to treat this disease are there with good results but patients wait much longer for a diagnosis than the recommended 6 weeks after symptom onset. In a recent study from Switzerland 40% waited more than 2 years for a diagnosis. Already established patients often struggle to see a Rheumatologist when they have an inflammatory surge called a flare. The workforce in RA is inadequate and the problem keeps getting worse. This is so well documented in the workforce study by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) that it has a name: the Workforce Gap.
We hope to drive up productivity significantly for the workforce in this field. Ultrasound is accepted by both main bodies of Rheumatology (ACR) and European League against Rheumatism (EULAR). The Robot is autonomous and works with only the patient present on Ultrasound Scanning both hands. RA manifests itself in ca 98% of the time in the hands. This allows doctors to have a result when they see the patients. It also opens the door for Triage before the patient sees a doctor. A Rheumatologist normally sees 18 patients to find one with RA. ARTHUR and the standard bloodwork can probably reduce this number a lot by taking out patients that very obviously don’t have RA and are literally waiting the wrong line.
The impact for patients suffering from RA and society as a whole can be huge.

4- What is your biggest challenge as an AI start-up?

Our biggest challenge is that we also have hardware. Many investors shy away from hardware.

We see the hardware as a key strength at our intersection of the demography mega trend. Healthcare us unique as it suffers the double whammy of a shrinking workforce coupled with a big demand expansion.

This is happening today and the gap between supply and demand will only widen.

We believe that while currently everyone is focused on image recognition there has to be someone performing the physical work involved too. That is why ARTHUR takes on physical and mental workloads in the Ultrasound diagnostic solution.

5- Why did you join the Innovation Factory Pitching Competition?

We strongly support the SDGs and would very much like to be associated with the ITU, the UN and the SDGs. The network you have is also fully of competent people that already mentored us on a few points. We also hope that we can raise awareness about Rheumatoid Arthritis and the general workforce problem in healthcare.

It’s also important that big multinationals, like the UN and its partners support robotic solutions in healthcare so they gain acceptance faster for better outcomes.

Register for the AI For Good Innovation Factory to seek ground-breaking solutions from start-ups and to explore opportunities to meet promising ventures and collaborators.

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