For UQ graduate, ex-Army engineer and medico Dr Chris Jeffery, everything in his life so far has pointed to this moment: improving the outcomes for patients undergoing hand surgery.
His training as an engineer, his management and leadership expertise, his experience on the battlefield, his founding of an anti-depression chocolate distribution company, his reinvention as headset manufacturer for the hearing-impaired, his employment in an orthopaedics ward – but, most importantly, his belief in himself and how he can help others. All have led here.
And ‘here’ is the start of a new dream, producing world-leading devices for use in the most complex of hand surgeries.
“I know what it’s like to rely on my hands and can only imagine how difficult and depressing it must be not to use them because of injury,” says Dr Chris Jeffery (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery '14, Graduate Certificate in Executive Leadership '14) who works as a registrar in the orthopaedic unit of the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba.
“I have seen manual workers unable to earn a living, athletes forced into inactivity, and children traumatised by wires sticking out of their hands as they recovered from hand fractures.
“I thought there had to be a better way.”
So, working with colleagues Dr Greg Cozens and Dr Libby Anderson, he established medical device startup Field Orthopaedics and set about making the vision a reality.
The result was the creation of a portfolio of small-scale hardware and tools specifically for use in hand surgery – the microscrew kit, a comprehensive screw kit, an extremity nail set, the all-titanium z-staple, and a flagship range of obsidian hand plates. The aim was to hasten recovery in patients, using stronger and safer alternatives to traditional implants, and with less reliance on k-wires (wires used to set small bones and which protrude through the skin during the healing process).
And they look good too, winning the Good Design Tick of Approval in 2018.
Watch the video about Field Orthopaedics.
Watch the video about Field Orthopaedics.
Thanks in particular to their microscrew, the world’s smallest cannulated compression screw – which generates enough compression to allow patients to return to function up to five times faster than before (in comparison to k-wires) – their products are now sold across Australia and in 30 states in the US.
However, the dream did not end there.
“Since September 2019, we have collaborated with Duke Medical in the US and with three world-leading orthopaedic surgeons who teach other surgeons how to treat complex hand trauma,” says Dr Jeffery.
“Together we have redesigned all of our products, specifically the anatomically contoured hand plate set, which features Unity variable angle locking technology to provide surgeons with more freedom when repairing hand trauma and stronger implants to provide peace of mind.
“With the support of the Federal Government’s Accelerating Commercialisation grant of $800,316 we received in July, we plan to commercialise our Comprehensive Extremity Trauma System so that our user-centred extremity products get into the theatres of orthopaedic surgeons.”
This includes the NX extremity nail and the Obsidian Plate Collection, which will be launched in the US in October/November 2020.
“We are extremely happy with the NX extremity nail as it makes fixing metacarpal bones much faster and more effective than current techniques. It’s the perfect solution for manual workers and athletes,” says Dr Jeffery.
And it’s good for the economy too: the orthopaedic extremity market is a billion-dollar market in the US alone.
Before graduating from UQ with his medical degree in 2014, Dr Jeffery undertook a Graduate Certificate in business, management and marketing between 2012 and 2014 as part of a medical leadership program.
After graduation, he then took part in UQ Ventures accelerator program, ilab, and created audio technology startup Audeara in 2015. The device the company produces is a tailor-made headset that allows hearing-impaired people to listen to music, podcasts or basically anything they want without reduction in sound quality. Audeara technology is now available for commercial purchase in Australia and is receiving huge interest from international retailers.
"I’m glad I participated in the UQ Ventures program all those years ago," Dr Jeffery said.
"My experience with ilab Accelerator really gave me valuable skills and contacts and guided me on the path I now follow.”