Q+A: Osamah Choudhry, MediVis

MediVis is an augmented reality medical company that’s using holographic visualization to transform medical and surgical practice. It's so amazing, we're honoring them with a DUMBO Dozen at the 2018 Annual Meeting!

We sat down with Osamah Choudhry, founder and CEO of MediVis, to talk about the revolutionary work that he and his team are doing.

Tell us about yourself and MediVis!

My name is Osamah. I grew up in Jersey. I went to undergrad and medical school at Rutgers and then I came to New York City where I started my residency in neurosurgery at NYU Medical Center. I did that for five years, and then in my fifth year, my friend and I formed a company based on using augmented reality for surgery. That company is called MediVis, and we now have a team of about ten folks based out of the DUMBO space here.

The whole goal of the technology is to enhance how we learn clinical anatomy and how we do surgery by taking patient anatomy that we traditionally view in two dimensions (like MRIs and CAT scans,) and understanding it in holographic 3D so that we can use that for operations and for enhancing medical education in general. On the education side, we developed a platform called Anatomy X where a 3D image of the human body is  holographically fixed in space so you can walk around it and look at it. You can use voice commands and say things like "show skeletal system," and it'll change into a skeleton. Then what your gaze is looking at shows the individual bones. There's a menu that allows you to do different things. So if, for example, you look at the words "head and neck" then put your hands out in an 'L' shape and then quickly pinch your thumb and pointer finger it'll show you just the head and neck. And then if you look to the menu on your right there's a whole bunch of other functions. So if you find the one that says "expand" and pinch it and look back at the body, you'll get a closer look at the skeletal system in the head and neck.

How did you come up with the idea for MediVis?

I've always loved technology and have been interested in applying it to the medical profession. In addition to the clinical work I've done, I’ve always worked on these newer emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality. This was an opportunity where we saw this technology could really be applicable to what we do in our profession, so we started working on it initially as an academic proof of concept which then evolved into a company.

Tell us about the process from idea conception to where you are now.

It's such a long and interesting journey mainly because it's rare for folks in the medical community— especially in training still— to create a company. There were a lot of unknowns when we first started the process. NYU helped us start the company, and then we recruited a brilliant engineering team and raised our initial round of funding from friends and family and really built out some powerful prototypes and proof of concepts. Then we worked with Microsoft to continue to iterate and continue to develop the technology. It's been about two years now. We started the company in June of 2016 and now it's gonna be June of 2018 coming up, and it's been a really incredible journey.

I can imagine that this is something that a lot of the tech world would be interested in pursuing and helping you with as well.

For sure! We have great partnerships with a lot of the bigger tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, and there's a huge focus on using these immersive technologies in healthcare, so that's been our forte specifically.

Who is MediVis designed for?

There are two verticals we're working on. One is education, so for that we have the Anatomy X platform that's focused on teaching clinical anatomy in holographic space. Right now how students learn anatomy is that they sit down and look at a textbook or look through photos; they never truly understand what they need to understand three-dimensionally. The patient and his or her anatomy are in three dimensions, so this technology helps bridge that gap. It helps a student learn it in a way that intuitively makes the most sense to them. When they use technology like this to learn it, they immediately understand what they're looking at in three dimensions versus having to put it together in their mind's eye when they're flipping through an atlas or something.

The other side is the clinical and surgical side, and that's looking at taking medical imaging which has traditionally always been viewed in two dimensions and viewing that holographically. Essentially, you re-create the patient and can use that imaging to further enhance how you do surgery and how you take care of the patient and their surgical disease.

How does MediVis plan to make information more accessible to patients?

Patients are often expected to understand very complex information when it comes to their disease, and we still use very old tools to convey that information to them. Either we'll speak about it and expect them to understand it or we'll show them their imaging and expect them to understand that. It's often confusing because patients aren't trained in medicine; they shouldn't be expected to understand imaging that professionals are using. So the technology is interesting because it's very intuitive in the way that it allows you to visualize all that data. For us, a huge effort is how can we make patient understanding of their surgical disease easier, and this technology has the ability to make it easier for them to understand what's happening. That’s a huge reliever of anxiety that patients often encounter when it comes to the entire surgical process for them.

What's the distinction between augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality?

I think to folks who perhaps aren't too deeply involved in this space, there's often some confusion. Technically we're a mixed reality company. We like to say augmented reality because I think the public understands the term better, but essentially virtual reality is an immersive experience; you can't see anything else but the digital world. Augmented reality is something where digital information is overlaid onto the real world. Mixed reality is a specific form on that continuum where digital information is not just overlaid onto the real world, but interacts with the real world as if it's there. What you create in mixed reality kind of seamlessly blends into your environment. With the side of our work that's focused on enhancing surgical care, you want to be able to see a patient while using the software. Since we need to be able to see the patient that we're taking care of, virtual reality wouldn’t work for what we’re trying to accomplish.

Mixed reality is a specific form on that continuum where digital information is not just overlaid onto the real world, but interacts with the real world as if it's there.

How did you end up in DUMBO?

The company was initially working in a space given by NYU, but we really outgrew it pretty quickly especially when we brought on full-time engineers. Then NYU and New York City had a couple of choices of incubator space to work in. Initially, we were located in the Varick Street Incubator over in Manhattan. I think Manhattan is great, but it's also not necessarily the space where you find all these up-and-coming companies. That incubator is, but Manhattan overall isn't. So when we had the option to move to DUMBO it was a no-brainer. It's such a beautiful district of the city. I think the energy here of all these folks working on amazing ideas is something that sustains us as a team. The coffee is great. And like I was mentioning before, it's also not a district that's just overrun by finance or overrun by commercial entities. It's very much off the beaten path; it's kind of like a hidden secret. It's just great to be able to take a break and walk by the East River and just enjoy some quiet, and it helps our team when they work this hard to have access to that. It's awesome!

Do you interact a lot with other startups?

In this space, [NYU's Digital Future Lab], absolutely! There are a couple of companies here— Alexapath, Carmera, Paperspace— all tackling brilliant problems, and for us it's important to interact with them because we've learned so much not just about how to run a company, but also about what we want to achieve personally. Their motivation inspires us and vice-versa, so I think it's critical to interact with each other!

What's your vision for the future of MediVis?

Our vision is to continue to create products from a technical standpoint that really help advance surgical care and medical education. We're really excited to be working in a time where technologies as incredible as augmented reality and artificial intelligence and computer vision are here. Using these technologies, we want to create solutions that not just marginally improve how we perform our jobs as physicians and as surgeons, but truly transform how we do them. In the end, for any medical company the bottomline is helping our patients, and if we can enhance how we take care of them and through our technology allow the medical field to provide better care, then we've won.

I think it's a really exciting time for the company as we start seeing this technology being used at our first hospital sites and our first educational sites. It's part of an incredible journey, and I think everyone on the team is just thrilled to be a part of something that we find so important.

Do you have advice for people wanting to get into the startup world?

I think we've made so many mistakes, but we've also made brilliant decisions as well and have learned a lot overall. It's all a journey of learning. I think I’ve been very fortunate to have been involved in this. It's really been a dream come true. To folks who are considering starting a company, my advice is that it's hard; it's hard to take an idea and create an entire business around it and to find a team and motivate them to believe in what you believe in and organize everything so now that you are a real entity. I always encourage potential entrepreneurs to find ideas that they're incredibly passionate about, that keep them up at night, that they're willing to put weekends and nights of work into it because that's what it's gonna end up being. If they have that baseline passion for what they're doing, then that plus a mixture of luck and common sense can carry you a long way. And if you have that passion then others will see it and will want to help you as well. I think it's critical to find a problem that you really care about solving and then focus on that wholeheartedly.

What's your favorite place in DUMBO?

I'm a huge fan of coffee and especially espresso drinks, so I really love Burrow. It's so unpretentious and unassuming— you wouldn't even see it if you hadn't taken a second look, but they make incredible coffee. I think what they do is with a lot of love, so I have a lot of respect for that shop. They usually close by 4pm, but if it's before 4pm and I want something to drink, I'll definitely venture up there. It's not an obvious place, but I really love that it's here in DUMBO. Other than that, there's this grassy hill right by the rocks that has the perfect view of Manhattan; it has the Brooklyn Bridge and downtown Manhattan behind it, so I love that part of the park and will just hang out there sometimes if I just wanna take a break.

Mentioned in this article

MediVis Burrow