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Game Changer: Proprio’s First-in-Human Spine Surgery

Radically improving surgical navigation while amassing a surgical data set of unprece­dented size and scope.

As deep tech investors, with every new investment we aspire to touch the hem of the future. Beyond that aspiration, we derive joy (and alpha) backing great entre­pre­neurs and teams that make the improbable probable. One such team is Proprio, which DCVC first backed 3.5 years ago.

Helmed by CEO and co-founder Gabriel Jones, the Proprio team recently announced its first-in-human spine surgery success­fully conducted under the 3D navigation capa­bil­i­ties of its FDA-cleared Paradigm™ system. Dr. Richard J. Bransford, a renowned leader in spine surgery, performed the surgery at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center. Everything about Proprio that was theoretical is now real.

This surgical first is the latest in a series of milestones recently met by the company:

  • FDA 510(k) clearance for Light Field 3D spinal surgery navigation
  • $43M Series B funding
  • Public launch at the Scoliosis Research Society’s annual meeting in September (including interaction with over 85 world-class surgeons)

I learned several decades ago that it is less important what a company says about itself than what its most important users and customers say. Dr. Bransford summarized what Proprio will mean for the surgery market:

The use of Paradigm in our surgical environment is a game-changer repre­senting the future of spinal surgery. The real-time 3D imagery allowed us to visualize the patient’s anatomy in ways not previously available to us. That will ultimately enable us to drive better outcomes for patients.”

Proprio is a flagship example of DCVC’s deep tech compu­ta­tional health care thesis. The company combines pre-operative scans (e.g., CT, MRI, and X‑ray) with light field imaging and AI to deliver real-time 3D views of the anatomy. A surgeon can see around obstruc­tions. Folks at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic studio would probably have loved to work at Proprio (if they were not giving us Star Wars and Indiana Jones).

Paradigm collects over 250G of video data per hour of surgery performed, data that can be used for improving not just a given surgery itself but also the operating room, hospital, and healthcare ecosystem. Built by and with surgeons and scientists, the company is focused on surgeons and patients, and its mission is the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of excellent surgery worldwide. 

The scale of the opportunity unfolding in front of the Proprio team is remarkable. In the U.S. today, a spine surgery is performed every 20 seconds, yet it’s estimated that we lose over 100 million days per year to addressable back pain. That’s 1.5% of GDP. And spine surgery is just the first target for Proprio: we believe that its dual offering of better navigation and better data will be warmly received across the full spectrum of surgeries. This is what we call a game changer.

Alan Cohen is a General Partner at DCVC.

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