This tiny camera means big things when it comes to treatment of stroke patients, doctors say

A tiny camera, barely bigger than a strand of hair, has been used for the first time ever in a procedure to diagnose and treat a patient suffering from multiple strokes.

Now, two doctors who were part of that procedure say the microangioscope developed by Vena Medical in Kitchener, Ont., could mean big things for the way stroke patients are treated.

“What I would say about this technology is it’s absolutely groundbreaking,” Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi said in an interview with CBC News. “A life was saved.”

Dowlatshahi, a neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital, had been treating the patient after they experienced multiple strokes. But CT scans and MRIs didn’t provide Dowlatshahi with conclusive evidence of what the problem was.

“We face an uncertainty and there was no current technology available to solve this uncertainty,” he said. “But I was aware of this technology that was being developed.”

Dowlatshahi worked with Dr. Robert Fahed, a neuroradiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, and Vena Medical to get one-time approval from Health Canada to use the tiny camera for a procedure.

WATCH | Dr. Robert Fahed says Kitchener-made camera a game changer:

Dr. Robert Fahed says Kitchener-made camera a game changer

Dr. Robert Fahed, an interventional neuroradiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, says the camera he was able to use on a patient recently determined what was causing the person to have multiple strokes. The camera was developed by Kitchener, Ont., company Vena Medical.

On Nov. 14, 2023, Fahed performed the procedure and the camera allowed him to look inside the blood vessels of the patient’s brain.

“We have never been able to see what’s inside the vessels,” Fahed said.

“As soon as we used the camera and we went into that vessel, everybody in the room immediately saw what it was and determined what the lesion was,” he added.

They determined the patient needed a stent, which was inserted at the same time the camera was in place and the whole procedure took about an hour.

“The camera was able to visualize all of this and the patient hasn’t had a stroke since then,” Fahed said. “They’re extremely grateful and grateful.”

‘Really, really rewarding’

Vena Medical was co-founded by two University of Waterloo engineering graduates, Michael Phillips and Philip Cooper. The two started working on it during their undergraduate degree as their fourth-year mechanical engineering design project.

They created the business through the university’s start-up incubator Velocity.

Phillips says between himself and Cooper, they have seven physicians in their families, so they have heard about the professional challenges doctors face when treating patients.

Man smiles for camera in medical imaging room
Michael Phillips is CEO and co-founder and CEO of Vena Medical based in Kitchener, Ont. (Isha Bhargava/CBC News)

Phillips said it was incredible to be at The Ottawa Hospital to see these patients get the help they needed to stop their strokes.

“Seeing the before and after, knowing that their life is going to be different after this kind of procedure, it’s really, really rewarding,” he said.

The camera’s development and what it could mean for more patients is also of interest to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Patrice Lindsay, the foundation’s lead of engagement and stroke strategies, said in an emailed statement that the foundation “is always pleased to see advances in science and technology” that can help stroke patients.

“We look forward to seeing the continued results of this emerging technology and to better understand the quality and capability of this device as development and production evolve, and the potential positive impact it can have on the lives of people in Canada,” Lindsay.

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Dr. Robert Fahed on how he performs brain surgery without incisions

Dr. Robert Fahed is an interventional neuroradiologist at The Ottawa Hospital who used a tiny camera to look inside the brain of a patient who had suffered multiple strokes. The camera was developed by Kitchener, Ont., company Vena Medical.

Next steps: Getting approvals

Dowlatshahi, who is also a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, says he can’t understate just how important this camera could be going forward.

Man standing near MRI machine in hospital
Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi is a neurologist and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital. (The Ottawa Hospital)

“It wasn’t just a discovery exercise to just see if this camera works. They used it to diagnose and treat a problem that would otherwise not have been diagnosed,” he said.

He says after a breakthrough like this, the question becomes how else this technology can be used because the camera can go places in the body no other camera has been able to go before.

“There’s all kinds of neurosurgical procedures this will help,” he said. “Right now we’re in the brain, but this will no doubt be going into other parts of the body for all the other specialties as well. So the next step is finding the other areas where it could be useful and I believe that that’s going to be a massive number of uses.”

WATCH | Vena Medical CEO on what it means to help patients:

CEO of Kitchener’s Vena Medical on what it means to help patients

Michael Phillips is CEO and co-founder of Vena Medical in Kitchener, Ont. Phillips and fellow co-founder Philip Cooper have seven physicians in their families between them. For that reason, Phillips says they understand the challenges professional doctors face when treating patients with strokes.

For Phillips, he says they want to get regulatory clearance for the camera to be used in Canada, the US and Europe so their technology can be used around the world.

“As an engineer, I want to treat as many patients as possible and if I can design a device that’s going to impact thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually millions of patients worldwide, that’s really our goal,” he said.