Startup Through the University of Michigan Uses Patient Imaging to Specialize Treatment

A startup out of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has found a way to use patient image files such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to specialize patient treatment.
A startup out of U-M uses medical imaging to analyze patients’ bodies and specialize treatment accordingly. // Stock photo

A startup out of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has found a way to use patient image files such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to specialize patient treatment.

Applied Morphomics Inc. is a biomarker technology and development company that assesses body factors essential for delivering precision medicine. The company’s technology is based on discoveries from Stewart Wang’s laboratory at the U-M Medical School. Wang is the founder of Applied Morphomics.

The technology extracts thousands of digital biomarkers from a patient’s medical imaging files. From this data, physicians can pinpoint patients’ conditions, the states of their diseases, and the kinds of treatments that might be most helpful.

“This is the ultimate selfie,” says Wang, who is also a professor of burn surgery at U-M. “A patient’s body is their biological medical record and contains a tremendous amount of information that clinicians to date have not been able to comprehend.”

Wang and his team began analyzing millions of imaging scans of more than 100,000 patients over an almost-20-year period. From this, they were able to create a database and define baseline information about gender, age, and fitness. For example, they saw that about 10 years ago, children had larger muscle mass and smaller fat mass compared to five years ago as a result of lifestyle changes.

“This is a bridge between the doctor and patient,” says June Sullivan, managing director of the company. “Patients often don’t get to see their insides, nor do they get a chance to talk about what their risks are. With these morphomic images, you can show them their role in their condition and treatment.”

The technology was developed over the past 10 years with research funding of nearly $20 million, Wang says. His lab has used medical imaging scans to conduct automotive crash research to determine why some people get hurt in car accidents and others do not.

There are typically a limited, standard set of physical models for conducting crash tests, such as child, adult, and senior prototypes, says Drew Bennett, associate director of U-M Tech Transfer. This technology allows researchers to more intelligently create a highly segmented set of profiles that can be used in simulation testing, clinical applications, and forecasting.

The normal distribution of body types is broad and has shifted over time. As a population, people are generally taller and heavier than they were 50 years ago. Having a more representative sample of the variety of body shapes creates a more intelligent base for research and benchmarking.

“The deep analysis of the variety and often less apparent nuances of our physical structure that have been developed by the Morphomics project is a phenomenally deep and sophisticated benchmarking reference,” says Bennett. “The variety of applications for this collection of personalized structural human roadmaps is staggering in its potential applications.”

Muscle mass is predictive of overall health. By measuring the amount and quality of a patient’s core muscle, the technology can predict how well someone will recover from a major surgery. If the muscles are small and infiltrated with fat compared to an age- and gender-matched reference population, experts can recommend a two-week routine of walking to build up the muscle and improve the patient’s recovery rate.

The technology can extract granular data on organ size and condition; muscle volume and quality; visceral and subcutaneous fat volumes, distribution, and density; bone mineral density; and vascular dimensions and calcification.

The company is selling analysis of digital images. Its potential applications include custom device development, drug development, patient selection, drug trials, surgical decision making, and disease management.

“Illness is the result of a process that involves both the patient and disease,” says Wang. “The patient is like the soil in which a seed, or the disease, takes root. Doctors tend to treat just the disease. Morphomics allows a much better understanding of the condition of the patient, or the soil, so that health can be restored.”

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