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WIRED Health 2016 startup stage: surgical and psychological marvels

WIRED Health is our annual exploration of the ever-changing world of healthcare, featuring leading technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators in sectors from robotics to virtual reality. For all our coverage from the event, head over to our WIRED Health hub.

The Bupa Startup Stage at WIRED Health 2016 showcased entrepreneurs and innovators at the cutting edge of medicine and health.

Several of the startups pitching to the judges – Simon Nicholls, Global Digital Health Director at Bupa, Tara Donnelly, Managing Director of the Health Innovation Network, Luc Dandurand, Head of ICT Applications at the International Telecommunication Union, and me – had created tools for surgeons or doctors.

These scientific and technological innovators could make pancreatic cancer survivable and anxiety disorders conquerable.

They may even make it possible to mend a broken heart.

Every year in the United States, 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects. These small vascular holes need to be repaired to allow the child to live normally. There’s no harmless way of doing this – so Maria Pereira created a glue that can stick the chambers of the heart back together.

Pereira’s biodegradable adhesive can be activated by light. Unlike other glues, which get washed away by water, it can be placed in wet environments such as the heart, where it degrades slowly by surface erosion mechanisms.

"Surgery is evolving from open surgery to minimally invasive," says Pereira. "We believe that this can be a tool to enable surgeons to change how surgery is done."

Created by Pereira during her PhD at MIT, the glue is being brought to market by spin-off Gecko Biomedical. The private company is currently testing it in clinical trials and hopes to introduce it in 2017.

Feeling anxious or struggling to get over a phobia? Now you can address your fears by confronting them in virtual reality.

Psious is a VR tool for mental healthcare. Principally aimed at treating anxiety disorders, it can also be used to relax and distract cancer patients during chemotherapy. With 300 professional clients subscribed to the service in the United States and Spain, it has been employed to treat over 1,000 patients.

The next step for Psious is to develop its platform, so it can provide what co-founder Dani Roig calls "semi-autonomous treatment": treatment supervised remotely by the psychologist. "Everybody is doing content, our secret sauce is the platform," says Roig. "It’s the first online platform that allows us to connect experience as well as showing all the data to the professional."

The treatment of cancer has improved dramatically in the last 40 years, but some cancers remain extremely hard to tackle. Chief among them: pancreatic cancer, which is now the third largest cause of cancer death in the United States

PanTher Therapeutics has created a tool to improve local treatment of pancreatic cancer: a patch the size of a bandaid that can cage the tumour and deliver drugs directly to it.

"You can shrink the tumour to a size where the surgeon feels comfortable to operate and remove," says Indolfi, who is currently arranging clinical trials for the device. "Our approach is able to increase the amount of drugs that can reach the tumour by five times."

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