Walid Ibn Essayed, MD, for long has had an undying passion for his specialty of neurosurgery. Years ago, his grandmother had died of a brain tumor after surgery, which further spurred his interest in the field. While performing the delicate and challenging work of his profession at the Brigham, where he served as a chief resident and clinical fellow, Ibn Essayed constantly sought ways to improve the practice.
Fortunately for him, his zeal to advance the field was strongly supported at Mass General Brigham Innovation. What Ibn Essayed has been so diligently working on, with the guidance from the Innovation team, is an idea for commercializing a skull-mounted device he developed that someday will positively impact patient care and precious health care resources.
“The Mass General Brigham Innovation commercialization process has lots of checks and balances to ensure success,” he says. “At every step, there is lots of advice from experts who know how to do this. That’s a good thing because I’m a scientist and when I see a problem (in medicine), I want to solve it with something I imagine, but I don’t know the path forward without help from Innovation.”
The problem that needed a better solution was for a device that can rapidly and precisely target parts of the brain for surgery, such as for drain placement, biopsies, and electrode placements for stimulation. Today, targeting is usually performed with leads from costly MRIs, which are not always available at smaller hospitals. Instead, his device would utilize intraoperative CTs at lesser cost, which are available at most neurosurgical facilities. The device would offer the added benefit of decreasing surgical time and extending its use to emergent situations. For this work, he received a Brigham Ignite Seed Award grant.
To date, bench testing for the prototype 3-D printed device has been promising and with good precision, but more testing is needed to further advance the device with the intended goal of commercialization. Mass General Brigham owns the IP for the device. How the device will be manufactured to scale is part of the effort that lies ahead, as is naming a successor to further test the device at the Brigham. For now, Ibn Essayed heads to Houston, where his family is, to begin neurosurgery practice and teaching at the University of Texas Health.
“The process of innovation and ultimately commercialization is not straight-forward and is a long process,” he says. “I learned a lot from Kalpana Kamath, PhD, program manager for Brigham Ignite, and Shruthi Krishnamurthy, PhD, senior manager, business development and licensing.
“Kalpana has great knowledge about devices and helped in so many ways, like when we had a problem with a 3-D printer,” he recalls. “With so many contacts, she was able to locate another printer quickly to keep our work going.”
“Shruthi is a leader in IP. She is very detail-oriented and takes the time to explain everything, going through each step one-by-one,” he said. “They are both fun to work with, too.”
He has been working on two other devices, one to reconstruct the skull base after endo-nasal approaches, the other an endoscopic endo-nasal implantation of an electrode for treatment of tumors.
Ibn Essayed had always been interested in trauma, as well as the brain, which he describes as “a black box” because of what is yet to be known about the brain’s functions. This necessitates further exploration, he states, and ultimately new ways of thinking to bring about more advancements.
Some final observations: “Resident physicians often shy away from getting involved with innovation,” explains Ibn Essayed. “But they have a great ideas, too, especially in neurosurgery.” However, many may not be familiar with the opportunities available to them even though their curricula do allot time for research in the later years of training, he adds.
Says Krishnamurthy, “We know he will be the future of neurosurgery innovation. He’s really good to work with, too.”
Kamath agrees. “Walid navigates through the innovation challenges–scientific or logistical– without undergoing analysis paralysis, knows when to pivot to an alternate path to arrive at practical solutions, and does so without losing sight of the bigger goal. I hope that as a part of his future journey he keeps the momentum going on product innovation and translational continuum, with his contagious enthusiasm and innovator spirit.”