Microsoft and Portland startup pilot AI-powered tool to thwart central line infection

Synaptiq CEO Stephen Sklarew. (Synaptiq Photo)

A self-funded artificial intelligence startup is partnering with Microsoft to address a long-standing problem in the medical field: infections caused by central lines placed into the body to deliver chemotherapy or other drugs.

Portland, Ore.-based Synaptiq on Tuesday announced the launch of a pilot program with hospitals to test a machine-vision tool that assess such lines visually to prevent infection.

Such infections affect hundreds of thousands of individuals each year in the U.S. and cause tens of thousands of deaths. They can happen when the lines are improperly cared for, giving microbes entry into the body. The new tool evaluates cell phone photographs for improper line dressings.

Synaptiq’s system is now being built and evaluated in partnership with a hospital network and the startup is looking for new healthcare partners for the pilot. Hospitals will pay a “minimal fee,” CEO Stephen Sklarew told GeekWire.

The project began when Microsoft’s healthcare partners identified central line infections as a key problem. Microsoft has been building up its healthcare capabilities, recently launching a partnership with Seattle-area health data company Truveta.

The new tool uses Microsoft Power Apps for its assessment app, Microsoft Teams to alert health care providers of compliance issues, and Microsoft Power BI for its dashboards collating the data.

The collaboration “is a good example of how Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare can put advanced monitoring solutions into the hands of clinicians to enable better decision-making and help provide superior patient experiences,” said Jean Gabarra, Microsoft’s vice president for AI health & life sciences, in a statement.

Synaptiq and Microsoft’s tool to assess central line dressings. (Synaptiq Photo)

Sklarew founded Synaptiq in 2015 with Tim Oates, the company’s chief data scientist, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Sklarew previously worked in a variety of roles at startups and tech companies, including as VP of Product at Veelo, a small sale performance startup that was acquired in 2019. Synaptiq has four full-time employees and 25 contractors.

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Sklarew is also co-founder of a Synaptiq spinout, Medicine in Motion, that offers an AI-driven digital health & wellness solution. Sklarew said that fits with Synaptiq’s business model.

“We especially look for clients and partners that are interested in more strategic relationships where we have an opportunity to co-develop, co-market, and/or co-sell solutions or products,” said Sklarew. “This includes creating spin-offs to bring new, leading-edge innovations to market, faster, as new products.”

Synaptiq’s core business is building AI-powered apps in partnership with its customers. The startup worked with a construction company to build a machine-vision tool that provides real-time alerts to managers on work sites. Synaptiq also partnered with health company Vasolabs on a way to detect arterial plaques in medical images. The startup has more than 60 clients in 20 different sectors worldwide.

Sklarew declined to provide revenue information or identify their current hospital partner for the central line project.

The pilot program will help train and evaluate the tool. (Synaptiq Image)

Investors are increasingly interested in companies that use artificial intelligence to assess medical images for radiology practices, though uptake has been slow and the technology has not been widely adopted, according to STAT News. Sklarew said he did not know of any other companies developing products similar to Synaptiq’s to assess central lines.

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates some medical apps, Sklarew says the regulatory requirements for this type of new technology are evolving. “We are investigating regulatory expectations,” he said.

He anticipates that new tool will become available for wider use later this year or early the next.

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