How NVIDIA GPUs Can Speed Diagnosis Of Heart Problems

by Brian Caulfield

Morpheus Medical will join several dozen other startups sharing their ideas at the Emerging Companies Summit, at the fourth annual GPU Technology Conference, to be held in San Jose, Calif., next March.

One in a hundred newborns suffer from congenital heart disease. 5.2 million Americans of all ages suffer from heart failure. The challenge for all of these patients: proper diagnostics.

Transthoracic echocardiograms – which involves placing a specialized transducer against the patient’s chest wall– are non-invasive, but imprecise.

Inserting a probe equipped with an ultrasound transducer down through the mouth and into the chest cavity – a procedure known as a trans-esophageal echocardiogram — is more precise, but it can be painful, risky, and time-consuming.

Morpheus Medical, a five-person startup in San Francisco may have a solution: software that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to build a real-time model of a beating heart.

Using data gathered during a 10-minute MRI scan the startup’s software can build a model of a heart in full 3D with flow and function while pulsing, and the arteries around it, that doctors can play forwards and backwards, examine from every angle, and zoom in on to get the details they need to know.

“It allows us to replace all those invasive procedures with something that is non-invasive and much shorter,” Morpheus co-founder Fabien Beckers says.

The aim is to offer a tool that can be used to help patients suffering from congenital heart disease – something challenging to diagnose with newborns – and then address the growing numbers of adults suffering from trouble with the valves that move blood around the heart.

Like so many startups in Silicon Valley, the company was hatched at Stanford University, where Beckers – a Stanford Graduate School of Business student who holds a PhD in physics from Cambridge University – ran into John Axerio-Cilies, who was working on his PhD in fluid dynamics in 2010. The two pitched the idea behind Morpheus as part of a business-school class project.

The pair was quickly joined by another pair of co-founders who were working on ways to change the paradigm of cardiac MR imaging: Albert Hsiao, who holds a PhD in bioengineering from UC San Diego and a computer science degree from Caltech; and Shreyas Vasanawala, an associate professor at Stanford University who specializes in pediatric and abdominal MRI.

Albert and Shreyas had already begun a collaboration with NVIDIA’s workstation group back in 2010. As part of NVIDIA’s Fermi launch, a prototype was developed and showcased at various conferences including GTC 2010.

So far the company is being backed by angel investors, and the four are now working to turn their prototype into a product. One challenge: finding technology powerful enough to render the results in real time. For that, Morpheus turned to workstations equipped with NVIDIA’s Quadro K5000 GPUs. “Without them we couldn’t visualize the results,” Beckers says.

Photo: Morpheus Medical