Resoundant, a Mayo Clinic imaging technology firm, is growing steadily as its Rochester-made system is being added to more and more MRI machines.
"Most major medical centers around the world have one of these devices in use now," said Resoundant CEO and Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Dick Ehman. "We have about 800 systems out there now, with 300 of them in the U.S. That's just a tiny fraction of the potential market."
There are an estimated 20,000 to 21,000 MRI machines in use in the world.
Resoundant, wholly owned by Mayo Clinic and 12 inventors, makes a paddle-like imaging device and software that works with traditional magnetic resonance image scanners to scan organs by using sound waves. That's a process called magnetic resonance elastography.
The devices are made in Rochester by Benchmark Electronics. The three top makers of MRI machines — Philips Healthcare, GE Healthcare and Siemens Healthineers — have partnered with Resoundant to offer the Mayo Clinic-branded devices as an add-on to their machines.
The cost to outfit an MRI machine with a Resoundant system ranges from an estimated $75,000 to $125,000, according to Ehman.
It's primarily used to scan livers, though research is underway to use it to scan brains and other things. While Ehman says the brain research is exciting, Resoundant is known most for scanning livers.
The MRE waves are used to judge the "stiffness" of a liver. Previously, the main way to discover that was to do a very invasive biopsy procedure.
Ehman says many doctors are using Resoundant to diagnose nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a condition that people with fatty liver disease can develop.
"It's turning into a huge health care problem. One in three Americans actually have fatty liver disease," he said. "Drug companies are investing heavily now in treatments for this condition because it is so important. Making this diagnosis is going to be increasingly important in the future."
That bodes well for Resoundant's future. It also explains the growing interest in the company from larger players in the health care field. Ehman says candidly that "a number of companies" have proposed buying Resoundant.
"We're not doing that at this time," he said. "We have such a good thing going. … We're a small company, but we're doing good things."
Other firms based on Mayo Clinic research typically have chosen to grow in the Twin Cities or elsewhere in the country. Resoundant's leaders are proud it is a Rochester company, and they'd like it to remain that way, if possible. Contributing to the local startup "ecosystem" is something they want to do.
The company recently moved into a larger office on the second floor of the Premier Bank building at 421 First Ave. SW., when it outgrew its space in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator. Resoundant has five employees; four are in the Rochester office, and one is based in Brussels, Belgium. The firm also contracts eight Mayo Clinic employees, including Ehman.
That contract also means the company is financing related research at Mayo Clinic.
"Resoundant is now investing about $1 million a year in advancing this technology in my laboratory," Ehman said.
While the economic outlook for the company is positive, that's not what makes its inventor most happy.
"There is a tremendous satisfaction to having something that you have been involved in inventing being routinely used in caring for patients around the world," he said.