A new star for our Talents

Italy's UpSurgeOn wins European contest Horizon 2020

Estimates in this specific field are hard to digest. In our world, the ultra-technological world of 5G and artificial intelligence, 23.000 neurosurgeons are missing. The figure may seem modest considering a global population made by billions of people. But behind it, there are 5million procedures not carried out due to the lack of specialists, and a ratio of 1/62,500 in the US that, projected on the African continent, reaches 1/12 million. The problem at the root, not even to say it, is called training. Impossible in developing Countries, difficult even for us, in the West. Because the preparation of a neurosurgeon lasts so long, about 15 years, and covers practically only the theoric field. For the practice, courses are often self-subsidised. Let's add, lastly, the complexity of the trade, which causes every year more than 3 out of every 100 surgeons in the world to file lawsuits.

But this is not an article about disappointment. Because here we tell a story of hope, which starts from our Country, from Catania and from 2011, to be precise. Federico Nicolosi is 26 years old, with a scholarship of specialization in neurosurgery in the pocket that takes him to the North, in Lombardy. In Brescia he meets Giannantonio Spena, first mentor, then friend. A talent to add to his, for two partners bringing a 3D printer to the department, and beginning to use three-dimensional models for the surgical cases on which they work together. It's called photogrammetry applied to neurosurgery. They basically build models in three dimensions of the surgical scenarios they face in the room. A way to facilitate the practice for those who want to touch the anatomy. It is a revolution, and not so small, since it can change fate, and life, not only to them, but above all, to an infinite number of patients, scattered in corners of the world where suffering from a neurological pathology is equivalent to being passed off.

In the meantime, a few years have passed; we are in 2015, and the two talented friends have joined in the order: Federico's brothers (Marco and Salvo, who also support the economic effort to turn an intuition into a start-up that travels towards the status of a real company); two programmers, capable of modeling in 3D; a group of students and neurosurgery graduates. The first apps made by the team scale online sales channels. In the first 2 years, half a million downloads. Some would stop there, to the success of creating useful innovation out of thin air. But our people have a broader vision. And for a broader vision, more important support is needed. Then they meet a business advisor with a 20 years experience background. He proposes to them the most ambitious goal, the most arduous one, the one to play everything for. Horizon 2020. Europe's most important technology financing programme. Something unreachable and, for this very reason, something to aim for.

The work programme takes two years just to select. They try to pass the first phase, and they also succeed. It is a pity that two more steps have to be climbed for funding. In the second step, they took the first disappointment, failed class with the recognition of an excellent result. Lost battle, war to be seen. So, in April 2019 they face the fourth attempt. In the meantime, to please, they gave birth and registered with patent a hybrid neurosurgical simulator, that mixes physical with augmented reality. Summer comes, and with it, the official email dated 10th of July summoning them to Brussels for the mother of all the interviewes. Ours are among the 200 surviving companies out of the 2.000 who started the journey. Italians traveling to a Europe that has doubts (and prejudices) more than serious about our Country. In 30 minutes they are examined, them and their simulator.

On August the 10th, they receive the verdict. Horizon 2020 is their thing. A new star, called UpSurgeOn and filled with Italian talent, shines on the sometimes dark sky of neurosurgery. Good sign for all of our potentials. Let's keep that in mind.