Frederic Moll: Using technology to improve heart surgery 

Hansen Medical Inc. (HNSN) co-founder Frederic Moll recently received word that the company’s new robotically controlled catheter has been approved by the FDA for commercialization.

The Sensei Robotic Catheter System and Artisan Control Catheter is being used to operate on the human heart.

"I consider it a platform technology," said Moll, 55, CEO and director of Mountain View-based Hansen Medical. "It has applications for a variety of different disciplines."

More than one hundred procedures have already been successful in treating patients with arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. To correct arrhythmia, doctors use a catheter to burn certain lengths of tissue. The resulting scar tissue blocks the transmission of cells that were firing incorrectly.

Arrhythmia is treated with catheters mechanically controlled by the doctor. The Sensei system allows doctors to control the catheter from a computer console. According to Moll, the robotic controls make the procedure safer and easier, and lead to better outcomes for the patient.

"Controlling a [mechanical] catheter is like twisting one end of the garden hose and trying to get the other end to do what you want," Moll said.

With the Sensei system, doctors can move the catheter in millimeter increments in any direction. In total, the catheter is 120 millimeters long and 4 millimeters wide.

The system costs $660,000. Each procedure also requires a single-use catheter that costs $1,600.

In addition to finer control, which allows the procedure to be more accurate and take less time, the Sensei system uses the heart’s electrical signals to map exactly where the misfirings are taking place and measures the pressure being exerted at the tip of the catheter.

According to Moll, the most challenging part of developing a new medical device is winning FDA approval. The Sensei system took two and a half years to move through the process, and required both benchwork and clinical trials. Complexity and similarity to already-approved products determines how quickly a new product is approved, Moll said.

Hansen Medical has 110 employees and went public in November 2006. In the next few years, Moll said he hopes to grow shareholder value and broaden the company’s platform to include catheters that can be used for other cardiac and vascular problems.

Moll earned a B.A. from UC Berkeley, a M.S. from Stanford University and a M.D. from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Hansen Medical is the fifth company he has started.


New project: Hansen Medical

Last project: Intuitive Surgical

Number of e-mails a day: 25

Number of voice mails a day: 15

Essential Web site:

Best perk: Suite at the Pierre in New York City

Gadgets: Satellite navigation

Education: B.A., UC Berkeley; M.S., Stanford; M.D., University of Washington

Last conference: Heart Rhythm Society

First job: Cook at Smitty’s Pancake House

Original aspiration: Major-league pitcher

Career objective: Enable new surgical techniques and therapies


Age: 55

Likes: Sunday morning runs on Golden Gate bridge, "B" horror movies

Dislikes: Waiting in line, flying coach

Defining quirks: Starbucks addict

Hometown: Seattle

Sports/hobbies: Running, skiing

Transportation: Mercedes

Favorite restaurant: Village Pub, Woodside

Computer: Vaio

Vacation spot: Lodge at Koele, Hawaii

Favorite clothier: Gucci

Role Model: John Madden

Reading: "Power of Now," "The Buddha"

Worst fear: Time moving too quickly

Motivation: Staying useful and inventive; challenging conventional thinking; of value to others

About The Author

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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