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Morphormics, Inc.

With support from NCI SBIR, imaging software company Morphormics, Inc., has brought its technology – a software product that facilitates radiation planning called MxStructure™ – from prototype to marketed product. Furthermore, the company’s 2012 acquisition by radiation oncology company Accuray, Inc. increases the role that MxStructure™ will play in treating cancer patients throughout the United States and the world.

Morphormics, Inc. was founded by University of North Carolina researchers with the goal of making cancer treatment more efficient and effective. Their MxStructure™ contouring software automatically identifies and draws the boundaries of body organs and the surrounding critical structures from medical images. MxStructure™ offers marked enhancements over standard segmentation procedures which can be time-consuming and produce variable results.

Supported by more than $4M in NCI SBIR grants since 2007, Morphormics applied for and received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use of its automatic segmentation product as a component of Accuray’s MultiPlan® Treatment Planning System in 2009. Accuray’s acquisition of the company in 2012 for $5.7M solidifies the role that MxStructure™ will play in radiation planning and therapy. Accuray’s treatment planning systems are used by over 635 hospitals around the world on the front line in fighting and treating cancer.

The addition of MxStructure™ to Accuray’s systems extends the system’s capabilities, helping radiation planners better focus radiation doses and minimize delivery of radiation to surrounding healthy tissue. MxStructure™ is already acclaimed by Accuray users for its performance related to organs in the male pelvis. Products for other anatomical sites are under development. By 2014, Morphormics envisions gaining a 12% market share in the $100 million global market for auto-segmentation software applications.

According to co-founder Ed Chaney, VP of Technology, "Venture capital funding was scarce when we began this work a decade ago, due to the economic downturn. Our accomplishments would not have been possible without NCI SBIR support."

Rendering of three-dimensional organ shapes and spatial positioning for the prostate, bladder, and rectum created by MxStructure™ software. The seminal vesicles and right and left femoral heads are not shown but also are segmented by MxStructure™.
Rendering of three-dimensional organ shapes and spatial positioning for the prostate, bladder, and rectum created by MxStructure™ software. The seminal vesicles and right and left femoral heads are not shown but also are segmented by MxStructure™.

The NCI-Supported Technology: Automatic Segmentation

The process of constructing three-dimensional (3D) anatomic configurations from CT scans and other medical images is called segmentation. Accurate knowledge of anatomical structures in three dimensions is critical for cancer treatment and radiation therapy planning. 3D models assist planners in determining where to focus radiation to best attack the tumor while minimizing normal tissue exposure.

Typically, segmentation is performed by a physician or other highly skilled professional. They pore over many (sometimes up to 40) individual image segments and manually draw two-dimensional (2D) contours of the appropriate organs in each segment. These 2D segments are then pieced together to create a 3D representation of the relevant organs, which is then used to guide treatment planning. This manual segmentation process devours clinicians’ time, and results are not always accurate.

Morphormics’ solution yields more consistent, accurate segmentations in a fraction of the time. More than 90% of MxStructure™’s automatic segmentations in the male pelvic area meet the required accuracy with no changes by the physician, reducing the time for segmenting from 90 minutes to 15 minutes.

Improving Cancer Treatment

Clinicians in the United States and 10 other countries are already using MxStructure™ to protect cancer patients from unwanted complications due to the potential destruction of healthy tissue by radiation therapy. With over 200,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 30,000 deaths every year, MxStructure™’s auto-segmentation of organs in the male pelvis has great potential to impact prostate cancer treatment. Morphormics continues to develop the product to work on other anatomical structures, with the goal of bringing more efficient and accurate auto-segmentation to the table in more types of cancers in the coming years.

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Reference to any specific commercial products, process, service, manufacturer, and/or company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the NCI's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) & Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs, or any other portion of the U.S. Government.