Dr. George Lewis, PhD is the chief science officer and co-founder of ZetrOZ, a company that is revolutionizing the ultrasound industry by introducing proprietary ultrasound generation technology that is more efficient, more portable, and more economically viable than any ultrasound technology presently available. Lewis is a prolific inventor that was born, raised, and educated in ultrasound physics and wave propagation. Lewis has integrated his ultra-low impedance ultrasound miniaturization technology into many academic, industry research, and commercialization efforts, including non-invasive surgeries, pre-natal imaging, cancer ablation, and wound healing. His doctoral studies in neurobiology (minor), mechanical engineering (minor), and biomedical-chemical engineering (primary) at Cornell University focused on ultrasonic applications for drug delivery in glioblastoma therapy. Lewis used his previous leadership and business experience to build a team around portable ultrasound applications, ultimately leading to the founding of ZetrOZ.
MO: When did you become interested in ultrasound technology?
George: I was born and raised learning about and playing with ultrasound devices. Growing up, my father was, and still is, a biomedical ultrasound engineer. He always had a lot of ultrasound-based medical devices around the house that he used to show me, which I would handle and interact with.
I really got interested in ultrasound when I began working in my father’s laboratory at Analogic in Peabody, Mass. This was from middle school through high school. Even though I did not know what I was doing until I got older, I was taught how to build ultrasound transducers and test them with acoustical measurement equipment.
When I went off to college, I started in the mechanical engineering program at the University of Miami. Within the first year I realized my passion was helping people and developing innovative medical technologies, so I transitioned into the biomedical engineering program. Shortly thereafter I leveraged my skill set from working with my father in ultrasound, and begun focusing my education in biomedical ultrasound technology — this included my senior design project that won me the Biomedical Engineering Society Rita Schaffer Award for outstanding biomedical engineering student.
When I started my Ph.D. studies, I used my love and knowledge of ultrasound and spun medical ultrasound research into my Ph.D., post-doctorate, and now ZetrOZ.
MO: Can you give our readers an overview of the human products that ZetrOZ is developing?
George: ZetrOZ is developing a suite of consumer-oriented products to support the transition of ultrasound from a “unique, high-tech” technology, to something that can be made readily available to the masses. The technology that we have engineered over the past six years focuses on making ultrasound systems super small, ultra portable, and battery operated. This is like taking the computer workstation and turning it into your cell phone.
Our first product that we have launched is a therapeutic, long-duration ultrasound treatment system for veterinary applications (UlrOZ). This is the first ultrasound device to provide daily therapeutic ultrasound treatments for more than five hours. The results from case studies on horses, as well as a range of basic science and translational science work we and our collaborators have conducted, showcases the technology in fracture healing, a vascular tissue repair (tendons, ligaments and cartilage), and muscle recovery.
Our second product is clinically oriented and focuses on treating musculoskeletal pain for humans. This will be the first multi-hour wearable, therapeutic ultrasound system that can provide traditional ultrasound therapy in the convenience of one’s life — so you won’t need to go to a physical therapist. Furthermore, the technology is poised to be a replacement for pain medications that have dangerous contraindications and host a range of outward side effects. The wearable ultrasound device will help people with both acute- and chronic-pain conditions.
In addition to these primary products, we have research and development on a suite of new ultrasound transducers, electronics, and software to support innovative ultrasound technology of the future. This includes ultrasound pills for diagnostic and therapeutic applications, ultrasonic chemical processing systems for commercial refineries, ultrasonic food processing, ultrasonic welding systems, and of course, many different types of ultrasound medical devices, i.e. tools for tissue emulsification, drug delivery, and healing.
MO: For the health care industry, your team is fairly young to be making such headlines. What would be your advice for other young entrepreneurs who want to venture into this industry?
George: What is amazing about our team is that we all share a passion for science, marketing, and business. So though we are young, we have all been entrepreneurial our whole lives and have used our education and training to support one another. The key for any entrepreneur is to have a passion and know to place people around them to support their vision. Our industry in the medical device arena is particularly challenging since science and engineering plays a very critical role. The regulatory challenges and various certifications that are required are not trivial, and it requires perseverance to see a medical device through the long haul. Fortunately, our entire management team has a scientific and healthcare background, so even though we manage different areas of ZetrOZ, we have an understanding of how important our individual roles are and how we can affect and help each other.
So my advice to an entrepreneur who wanted to start a company in the medical device industry would be to have a founding team that has complimentary experiences and a level-headed collaborative approach to working together. The vision is generally pretty focused, however; the path to the vision constantly evolves and having a team that works well together and understands each other is of critical importance.
MO: ZetrOZ has pulled many of their employees from connections at Cornell University. How has starting this business while you were getting your doctorate benefited the company?
George: ZetrOZ actually started only after my second year of work while I was at Cornell. Interestingly, I was able to meet my co-founding members through the MBA program and the Biomedical Engineering program at Cornell. So indeed all the founding members were affiliated with Cornell in some way, making it very easy to meet and discuss our vision and pathway.
Being in an academic environment provided its own challenges, often providing too many opportunities for ZetrOZ. We must have brainstormed more than 300 ideas that the technology we were developing could be used for, and all the professors and scientists only added to the crazy — and — not so crazy ideas. Nevertheless, it was a great nurturing environment, and the university supported our entrepreneurial spirit with many resources.
Though our founding members are all from Cornell and we have three employees that were Cornell-affiliated, we have also brought in talent from California, Illinois, Georgia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. So we are always looking for the best fit for ZetrOZ.
MO: What is the next step for ZetrOZ products on the journey to be used by everyday citizens?
George: Our first ultrasound technology is going to be a wearable pain therapy system that provides long-duration ultrasound treatment for pains like arthritis, tendinitis, inflammatory conditions, muscle tares, and sprain. We have already conducted a number of clinical research studies on various pain-producing conditions like knee arthritis, back spasm, and shoulder tendinitis — the device provides excellent pain reductions and can be used as an adjunct to current medications.
So people can expect to see the wearable pain therapy system available through their doctor or physical therapist as a go-to therapy for sports injuries and everyday pain. Shortly thereafter we will launch another series of ultrasound technologies focused on healing injuries, such as cuts, bruises, bones, and chronic ulcers.
Last but not least, expect to see the ZetrOZ technology enter into consumer-care products, such as hygiene and skin health.
MO: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your entrepreneurial ride with your team thus far?
George: One of the most rewarding aspects has been reflecting on the company’s past and seeing the stereotypical aspects to a company’s growth, i.e. moving from a house to an office to a corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility. ZetrOZ began out of my home office-lab (a 6-by-8-foot room in 2009), transitioned to a 12-by-12-foot office downtown Ithaca in 2010, grew into a 3000-square-foot facility in downtown Ithaca from 2011 to 2012, and is now expanding into a 6500-sqare-foot manufacturing and research facility in 2013. It is rewarding to look back into all your hard work and see what your perspiration has achieved.
It is also very rewarding to reflect on the learning and experiences you are thrown into in a startup company. For our first product launch, I handled the engineering of the device, packaging, labeling, and branding. It is pretty awesome that the inventor of the technology actually got to come up with the logo for the name and logo on the product! It is also rewarding to assess the current state of the company and find that I am no longer handling the logos and branding now that we have a marketing team and graphic designer on staff!
Last but not least, it is very rewarding to be a good boss and mentor for my employees. It is really great to lead the science and engineering team, and I have an amazing group of talented individuals working together for a unified goal of making ultrasound broadly accessible, convenient, and easy to use in everyday life.
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