Brainlab is a global medical software and hardware company dedicated to improving patient outcomes by catalyzing access to and the consistency of medical treatments. The company is headquartered in Munich and has 25 locations worldwide.
“Brainlab’s extensive software and hardware products and services have enormous potential to accelerate the advancement of the focused ultrasound field,” said Foundation Chairman Neal F. Kassell, MD. “They have great utility both for manufacturers of focused ultrasound devices and research sites.”
We recently spoke with Brainlab’s CEO and Foundation Council member, Stefan Vilsmeier, about how the company works with researchers and clinicians to advance technologies like focused ultrasound.
How was Brainlab started?
I founded Brainlab in 1989 in Munich, Germany. As an autodidact in software programming, I wrote a book on 3D graphics at the age of 17, laying the foundation for the company. With more than 50,000 copies sold, the book became a bestseller in this category.
In 1989, I enrolled at the Technical University of Munich to study computer programming, but the nature of my burgeoning business in computer-assisted medical technology left little time for theory. While still in the first semester, I founded Brainlab from the proceeds of my book.
As CEO, I have been the driving force behind the company’s innovation and customer focus from the very beginning.
What are your intentions with Brainlab?
I have always had one goal: to improve medical care and the quality of life for as many patients as possible.
Tell us about your company structure: ownership, lead executives, and their roles.
Brainlab is a privately held company. Brainlab’s current executive board consists of:
- Stefan Vilsmeier (myself), Founder and Chief Executive Officer
- Rainer Birkenbach, Chief Technology Officer
- Jan Merker, Chief Operating Officer
Over the past decade, Brainlab acquired several innovative companies in the software and medical technology sectors.
In general, what is the current status of your company?
Brainlab develops software and hardware for radiotherapy and radiosurgery as well as for the fields of neurosurgery, including functional neurosurgery, ear, nose, and throat (ENT) and craniomaxillofacial surgery, spine surgery, and trauma procedures. Our products focus on image-guided surgery and radiosurgery, digital operating room integration technologies, and cloud-based data exchange.
Worldwide, 6,300 hospitals use Brainlab technology, including the top neurology and neurosurgery hospitals in the US. There are approximately 14,500 of our systems installed in 120 countries worldwide. We employ around 2,200 people from 85 different countries, including about 800 engineers in research and development.
Tell us about your business and how it fits into the field of focused ultrasound.
Focused ultrasound comprises several techniques that all share a common goal: treating patients through a minimally invasive approach. Brainlab can make an important contribution through its leading role in the field of image-guided surgery and navigation. For example, techniques such as MR-guided focused ultrasound require accurate and patient-specific targeting. Brainlab offers Elements, a state-of-the-art platform with advanced tools, such as fiber tracking and anatomical mapping, to assist neurosurgeons in surgical targeting.
Which health conditions or diseases is your technology used for?
Brainlab has been at the forefront of healthcare technology for over 30 years, providing innovation in several areas:
- Oncology, particularly radiotherapy and radiosurgery
- Navigated surgical procedures, particularly in craniomaxillofacial, ENT, orthopedics, spine, trauma, and neurosurgery
- Functional neurosurgery, particularly in the treatment of movement disorders and drug-resistant epilepsy
What do you find most promising about the focused ultrasound field?
It is fascinating to see that modulating ultrasound can achieve different effects, ranging from small and well-defined lesions to opening the blood-brain barrier. Focused ultrasound provides a promising approach for longstanding unmet clinical needs that traditionally require invasive methods.
How can Brainlab help the field of focused ultrasound?
Essentially, Brainlab excels at developing and improving clinical workflows through seamless technology integration. By collaborating with the industry in the field of focused ultrasound, we can accelerate the development of efficient and outcomes-based workflows.
What are the benefits of your technology over other companies?
Brainlab has a strong foundation in medical software. The company is committed to getting the most out of patient data, starting with imaging studies. Extracting meaningful information from data and making those insights available to clinicians in a way they can easily use has led to our current leadership position in the clinical community. But that’s not all. We believe in the value of an integrated technology ecosystem that includes surgical navigation technologies, robotics, and digital tools (such as mixed reality viewers).
Education and dissemination of knowledge within the clinical community is also a goal that Brainlab is pursuing. The acquisition of Level Ex in 2020 is evidence of that. Level Ex develops medical computer games to improve the clinical skills of physicians and uses its expertise and products to improve the interaction between data, technology, and people. This is crucial for successful digitization in the healthcare sector.
What has been your most notable lesson learned over the years?
There is never a completely right or wrong decision. You have to make sure that the decision you made is the right one in the end. Even if you fall down with a bleeding nose, get up and keep going.
How do you partner with other companies?
In order to leave no potential for the optimal treatment of patients untapped, at Brainlab we work closely with our strategic partners, such as innovative and renowned companies from our industry and beyond. Together, in close collaboration, we seek to discover and produce the next generation of technology and treatments to improve outcomes for patients.
Is there anything else we should know about your company?
At Brainlab, we digitize medical workflows from diagnosis to therapy, and our innovative ecosystem forms the basis for modern healthcare technology. We help healthcare providers build three-dimensional patient-specific data models that are structured, mapped, and aggregated with industry-leading artificial intelligence. This builds the basis of our navigation system for the human body. With the help of our navigation systems, clinicians can safely remove brain tumors, precisely place screws in the spine, neuromodulate the brain, and irradiate breast tumors with millimetric precision.
Our robotics and mixed reality technologies and expertise allow users to connect and innovate between the digital and physical worlds. In addition, Brainlab technologies power the collection of structured long-term data and medical registries. Through the neuroscience of play, Brainlab advances clinical training and education, promoting the adaptation of technological advances and creating digital models of complete interventions. Our digital ecosystem is an open interface and also forms a framework for third parties to accelerate innovation in other clinical areas.