Los Angeles startup uses AI to reduce unnecessary spine surgeries

By ELISE REUTER / December 15, 2019

A Los Angeles-based startup recently struck a licensing deal with the University of California-Los Angeles to create a tool that can analyze spine images to help decide whether patients should be a candidate for surgery.

Theseus AI was spun out of research conducted by Dr. Luke Macyszyn, a neurosurgeon at the UCLA spine center. The startup struck an agreement to license the technology from UCLA in September.

CEO Sam Elhag presented Theseus’ work in front of a group of colleagues at the SoCalBio Digital Health conference on Friday. The company is addressing a costly medical problem: more than 250,000 spine surgeries are preformed annually, Elhag said, and a significant portion of them might be completely unnecessary.

Studies show a substantial number of back surgeries fail to relieve pain. Estimates range between 20 percent and 40 percent of surgeries fail, according to a 2016 review by the Journal of Pain Research.

“This is somewhat personal for me in that my own father had spine surgery twice,” Elhag said. “To this date, it’s uncertain as to whether or not it all made sense.”


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Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as Chief Operating Officer at Ortho Spine Partners. Prior to that, he was the assistant vice president and business unit leader of Medical Device Management for HealthTrust.

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