Q&A with Sloan Kulper, CEO of Lifespans, on the launch of Alfonso: The Implant Simulator

Sloan Kulper is a biomedical engineer from MIT, serial entrepreneur and inventor with multiple international patents who has built successful startups in four countries and raised millions of US dollars in grants and seed funding across multiple ventures.

As CEO and co-founder of Lifespans, the Hong Kong-based medical device company, he is also one of the pioneers behind Alfonso: The Implant Simulator. 

Based on a proprietary, particle-based computer model of bone tissue, Alfonso is being marketed as the first and only system capable of accurately simulating implant migration and cut-out testing in computer-simulated cadaveric bone and PU foam.

At the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) in March Lifespans launched Alfonso Cloud, an industry-first self-service portal for implant testing that allows implant designers to model and run an ever-expanding range of results faster than traditional lab testing. 

For a detailed overview of the Alfonso Cloud and the benefits over existing laboratory testing, visit the Alfonso website here.

We spoke to Sloan about the development of the technology, how it can help medical device manufacturers and the future of the system.

Thank you for talking to us today, Sloan. Can you explain the genesis of Alfonso and what unmet need were you trying to resolve?

“Our founding team met at the Department of Orthopaedics & Traumatology at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Medicine where I was a PhD student and Erica Ueda Boles was a postdoc under Professors William Lu, Frankie Leung, and Christian Fang. Our research was focused on understanding why some implants fail in osteoporotic patients, and when we first launched Lifespans around 2018, we were very focused on creating a niche portfolio of osteoporotic bone repair implants for trauma applications. We had also developed a “particle-based” osteoporotic bone simulation tool, Alfonso (named in honor of our research collaborator Prof. Alfonso Ngan from the Department of Mechanical Engineering), that was unique in terms of its ability to simulate phenomena like bone cracking, crushing, and other phenomena. 

“During the Covid pandemic, it became apparent that simulation was a very attractive alternative to laboratory testing because of supply chain issues, which can really slow the testing process down. 

“We felt if Alfonso was a helpful tool for us to use,  it likely could benefit other companies in orthopaedics as well. Since launching our service at AAOS 2021, we have found that companies large and small can indeed benefit from running tests with us, especially those that help to narrow down which options they might consider prototyping.

“We think Alfonso represents a new way to do testing that supplements existing mesh-based simulation methods, which are excellent at predicting initial stresses but are less effective at showing large amounts of material damage. Damage is the area where we are really able to shine and offer something unique to the industry.

“Primarily we perform pre-clinical simulations of implant subsidence performance in bone material or foam, and also of damage to the implants themselves, particularly in the case of complex 3D printed devices. We are also excited to get into more later stage testing and we are starting the process of qualifying Alfonso as medical device development tool with the FDA.”

Q&A with Sloan Kulper, CEO of Lifespans, on the launch of Alfonso: The Implant Simulator
What does alfonso do?

How has your approach to innovation at Lifespans informed the development of Alfonso?

“First and foremost, our mission at Lifespans is to create safer and more effective orthopaedic implants. That is to say, our motivation wasn’t that of simulation experts looking to push a particular technology, but rather we as orthopaedic engineers and surgeons looking for new practical solutions to the problems we face in orthopaedics. 

“We had no interest in maintaining the status quo and this, as well as a multidisciplinary approach, opened the door for a new technology to step in.

“We are creating a new sub-market of virtual testing of the damage that is done to bone or bone-like material or the implant itself, with the aim to make that part of the workflow of all companies.

“We can do many of the tests that you might run in a physical lab until you’re at the point when you start doing many cycles. So especially for dynamic testing, labs doing physical testing are great partners for us. 

“We are also pushing forward the technology from a patent perspective, and in a position to be exclusive in this area for a period of time.” 

What has the feedback been since you launched the service?

“All the feedback we have received is on how well we provide our service, which has been very positive. The technology does what we claim and has been able to reproduce mechanical behaviours extremely accurately.

“Our approach to working with companies as implant designers is also value add. We don’t just provide analysis, we believe analysis should come within the context of the clinical problem that the implant designer is trying to solve. 

“Feedback from some of the major companies is that this is a little different to the experience they have had with other consultancies.

“We don’t rely on commercial software and this has allowed us to create a business without technological encumbrances, with prices competitive with existing laboratories.” 

What are your ambitions for Alfonso in the short and medium-term? 

“We are investing a lot of time and energy into building a template library that will be accessible directly through our online-based ordering system. 

“We’re setting up an infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist within our industry, allowing us to continue doing both custom work and building a really good option for straightforward tests. 

“An area of focus for us with particular emphasis is on building as many strategic partnerships as possible. We will continue to use Hong Kong and Asia as our hub for engineering while building our salesforce in the US as that is the dominant location for our customers, but Europe is also a possibility. 

“The changes going on with MDR that make life more challenging for many device developers with more of an emphasis on clinical testing, doesn’t necessarily mean the introduction of our service to European customers is a problem.

“The technology is not tied to specific regulatory hurdles but to basic problem solving that needs to be done regardless of where in the world you are selling a device.”

ENDS

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