Goleta-based True Digital Surgery develops advanced surgical microscopes
As chairman of both a Goleta digital surgical microscopes company and a film and TV visual effects company, Aidan Foley may seem to work in two widely disparate fields.
But that’s not what he thinks.
As Mr. Foley explained it, be it visual effects or digital surgical microscopes, the digital imaging involved in both consists of three components: image capture, image processing and image display.
In movies and TV, one uses a camera to capture an image.
In surgery, this is done with the lens of a microscope.
Whether an image is captured to appear in a blockbuster movie or for a surgeon’s use during a complex procedure, it must be of the absolute highest quality, said Mr. Foley, chairman and CEO of True Digital Surgery, a company developing digital surgical microscopes. He’s also chairman of Legend 3D, a visual effects company.
“To me, they are both just very high stakes versions of digital imaging,” Mr. Foley told the News-Press.
The stakes involved with Legend 3D’s work are hundreds of millions of dollars spent producing and then marketing Hollywood tentpole movies. If those pictures don’t make the expected return on investment, those stakes can also include people’s careers.
Mr. Foley said even this doesn’t quite measure up to what’s at stake during surgeries where TDS microscopes are used.
“There’s nothing more high stakes than a life-threatening surgery,” he said.
Long before he was involved with creating advanced medical equipment, Mr. Foley’s career revolved around visual effects.
For eight years, he served as the head of Eastman Kodak’s Digital Motion Imaging Division. This involved managing several global businesses concurrently, including award-winning visual effects company Cinesite.
Mr. Foley began investing in TDS’s ophthalmology focused predecessor company TrueVision Systems in 2006 and served on its board of directors for 14 years.
In 2018, TDS spun off from TrueVision Systems to focus on surgical microscopes, and Mr. Foley has served as the young company’s CEO since April 2019.
TDS’s purpose is giving surgeons the highest possible quality images of their surgical field through digital microscopes, which Mr. Foley described as relatively uncommon.
The CEO told the News-Press that most microscopes use analog lenses, which means surgeons must keep their eye on the eyepiece throughout a procedure. To do, surgeons must contort their bodies as needed, and Mr. Foley said that sometimes results in back problems later in life.
With TDS’s Aeos Robotic Digital Surgical Microscope, robots in the lens do the adjusting as needed and project the captured image on a 65-inch screen so the surgeon can see it without holding their eye to the eyepiece. Mr. Foley explained the robots in the lens know how much to adjust because of pre-planned “waypoints” the surgeon selects and can move back to during a procedure.
The Aeos microscope also has a feature called “lock to target,” which allows a surgeon to move the microscope around while remaining 100 percent focused on a particular subject in the surgical field.
One other parallel Mr. Foley notices between imaging in entertainment and imaging in medical microscopes is optical lenses being replaced by their digital counterparts. Just as optical lenses went by the wayside when digital could produce a better image than film ever could, that time has also arrived for surgical microscopes.
This technology was in development at True Vision Systems even before TDS was spun off in 2018, and even in the technology’s early stages, it was apparent that digital surgical microscopes were the way of the future.
“You could see even then, that this transition was absolutely going to happen,” he said.
Distributed through Aesculap, a division of medical equipment company B. Braun, the Aeos has been sold in the U.S. and Europe thus far. Next year, TDS hopes to move into the Asia-Pacific market.
Though it is very rewarding for Mr. Foley to see a major movie studio get a return on its multimillion-dollar investment in part because of the visual effects Legend 3D delivers, he said that doesn’t come close to helping surgeons save lives by giving them the best possible visual equipment.
“The reward coming from what we’re doing now — it can’t be compared.”