New endoscope brings ear surgery into 21st century

Miniature device will allow more procedures be carried out in outpatient settings

Hearing loss affects more than 500 million people worldwide and surgery is one of the ways the problem can be addressed. However, operating on the complex structure of the ear is a challenge for ENT surgeons who have to perform delicate procedures using large, cumbersome microscopes which Tympany Medical co-founder Dr Liz McGloughlin says are far from ideal.

In 2016 McGloughlin teamed up with designer and company co-founder Rory O’Callaghan to develop a miniature device that will replace the scopes used by surgeons for the last half century. Tympany’s solution will revolutionise how ENT surgeons operate and will also allow many more procedures to be carried out in outpatient settings.

“We have developed the world’s first specialised endoscope for ear surgery that gives surgeons a wide-angle view of the ear but still allows them to operate without changing their well-established surgical techniques,” McGloughlin says. “Our product is called Otovu and it is a compact visualisation device that leverages cutting-edge optic and sensor technologies.

"Pathology of the ear often necessitates surgery to repair the eardrum or remove benign tumours which affect conductive or bony hearing and our device allows surgeons to operate in a faster and more minimally invasive manner," explains McGloughlin who studied medicine at UCD and trained in anaesthesia and critical care before joining the BioInnovate programme at NUI Galway in 2016. BioInnovate brings medical practitioners, engineers and designers together to find solutions to unmet clinical needs.


"As an industrial designer who also has a masters in medical-device design, Rory could see the ergonomic challenges instantly and when we showed our initial concept to Prof Colin Driscoll, chair of the department of otorhinolaryngology – head and neck surgery – at the Mayo Clinic, he was really excited and wondered why surgeons were not already operating this way," McGloughlin says.

‘Tailor our device’

"By working side by side with surgeons in Ireland, Europe and the Mayo Clinic in the US, and with the input of ENT professor Ivan Keogh, also of NUI Galway, we have been able to tailor our device to meet surgeons' needs exactly – unlike existing microscopes and endoscopes. The user interface was critical for us and it was also a huge challenge to miniaturise the components. Traditionally, surgical solutions for other specialisms were shoehorned into use for ENT procedures. With Otovu ENT gets its own dedicated device. These are very skilled surgeons and our device will allow them to do so much more," McGloughlin says.

Tympany Medical will be spun out from NUIG later this year and as of now the business employs four people. It has been supported by Enterprise Ireland with an investment of €426,000 under its commercialisation fund. In 2018, the company won €50,000 in the EU-backed EIT Health Headstart competition for early-stage health service and product ideas. It is now seeking to raise in excess of €1.5 million to secure regulatory approval for the product in the US and Europe.

‘Next milestone’

“As with all medtech products, there is a regulatory process so the next milestone is to complete that successfully,” says McGloughlin who may have medtech in her blood as her father is a biomedical engineer. “We are hoping to make or at least assemble the device in Ireland and a key selling point with healthcare systems worldwide is that, because our device will allow more surgeries to be done in a minimally invasive way, it will make absolute sense for them to go with it from an economic point of view.”

McGloughlin didn’t go into BioInnovate expecting to start a business. Rather she had seen it more as an opportunity to shed new light on her existing clinical practice. But a meeting of minds with Rory O’Callaghan and the realisation that their pooled backgrounds represented a strong skillset encouraged them to develop out their idea, which is expected to have its commercial launch in 2022.

* Article amended to correct detail on Prof Colin Driscoll's place of work, on June 20th.