Norwegian SonoWand neuronavigation system wins 200.000 euro IST grand prize award

Düsseldorf 04 December 2001Three projects representing the best of Europe's information society innovation were awarded the IST grand prize by Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen at the Information Society Technologies (IST) conference in Düsseldorf, Germany on the evening of 3 December. The three awards of 200.000 euro went to projects which had succeeded in creating a development platform, Virtools, allowing users to create graphically three dimensional (3D) interactive content; an advanced tool control system, ECO-DAN; and a computer aided, ultrasound based navigation system for improved brain surgery, SonoWand.

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Announcing the prizewinners, Mr. Liikanen emphasised the importance of successfully exploiting products developed in Europe. "If we can't create a link from research to the market, we lose potential. We need to look at how this can be done. The IST prize is one way of doing this", he stated.

One of the three grand prizes went to SonoWand, developed by MISON, a spin-off company from the Norwegian centre of excellence in Trondheim. The company was created in 1998 and now employs 13 people. The computer aided, ultrasound based navigation system offers high quality and precision, allowing a surgeon to remove a greater portion of a brain tumour through a smaller incision to the brain.

Neuronavigation systems have become very common in neurosurgery in recent years. Conventional navigating surgical instruments provide MR or CT images which are several days old, and cannot be fully relied upon on the day of the operation because "the map does not correspond with the terrain". SonoWand enables the surgeon to easily update the map during surgery, taking only a few seconds to scan the brain with high quality 3D ultrasound.

The surgeon can then navigate tiny instruments down to the tumour and perform image-guided surgery with a high precision of approximately 1 mm. Ultrasound images of similar quality as MR images facilitate the identification of small remaining tumour structures towards the end of the surgery, whereas the high precision navigation system simplifies the localisation and removal through a smaller opening in the normal brain. Expected clinical results include fewer neurological side effects, increased longevity, and better quality of life.

Åge Grønningsgåter, who collected the award on behalf of MISON, explained that the prize money will be used to help introduce this new technology to the marketplace. "We will use it for the market introduction phase. It is very important for us now to secure business, so this will be very valuable for us in the starting phase we are in now", he stated. He also cited a Norwegian company which won the IST award several years ago and received a lot of attention. Mr. Grønningsgåter hopes that his award will have the same effect.

An award winner from last year, Lionel Zajde from VITEC Multemedia, explained that this was exactly what had happened to his company. He said that the IST award had helped his company on four fronts: media coverage, Internet marketing, market recognition, and funding. He believes that the prize is instrumental in securing funding from the European Commission as well as from banks, as they are assured that their money is being invested in viable technology.

Commissioner Liikanen congratulated this year's grand prize winners and finished by saying that if Europe is to become more entrepreneurial it needs more young people willing to take risks and an end to the stigma attached to failure when such a venture proves unsuccessful. Additional news on the other medically focused IST Prize finalists can be found in the following VMW articles:


Leslie Versweyveld

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