Alumnus wants to make veterinary technology more accessible

Zach Meyers, left, and Nic Herfel, right, founded Vetreum in January 2022. The company pursues a variety of smartphone-based artificial intelligence diagnostic tools to make veterinary practices and professionals more accurate and efficient.
Zach Meyers (left) and Nic Herfel (right) co-founded Vetreum in January 2022. The company is pursuing smartphone-based diagnostic tools with artificial intelligence.

When Zach Meyer’s DVM’22 as a fourth-year student taking artificial intelligence in veterinary medicine, he didn’t think it would turn into a business.

“I’ve always been drawn to computer things,” says Meyers, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in 2022. “It sounded incredibly interesting. Artificial intelligence is such a cool buzzword.”

The class taught by Professor Dorte Dopferis one of several electives that students can choose in the fourth year of the doctorate in veterinary medicine curriculum.

In two weeks, students explore the potential of machine learning in veterinary medicine. You’ll spend a few days learning basic computing practices and the basics of machine learning, then quickly start working on individual projects to create your own machine learning application relevant to veterinary medicine.

Zach Meyer's DVM'22

In Meyer’s class, some students worked on training computers to interpret electrocardiograms or diagnose Addison’s disease in dogs. Meyers taught a computer to recognize parasite eggs in fecal samples, an often time-consuming task for humans. From this concept, a company called Vetreum, co-founded by Meyers, eventually emerged.

The parasite egg detector worked better than Meyers expected by the end of the course. Even after he graduated in May and became a small animal GP in Oregon, Wisconsin, Meyers couldn’t get the idea out of his head. So he enlisted the help of his childhood best friend, Nic Herfel, now senior data scientist at TDS Telecom, who matched Meyers’ enthusiasm. “One day we started talking and it just kept going,” Meyers recalls.

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds real potential for the field of medicine in both human and veterinary patients. “Many people think of robots when they think of AI,” explains Herfel. But really, it’s about “using computing power in ways humans can’t” and in turn making tasks easier and cheaper.

“AI is a way to improve trust, accuracy and efficiency along with the people you work with,” adds Meyers. “The goal is to improve the day-to-day veterinary profession.”

This speaks for the mission of Vetreum, which Meyers and Herfel launched in January 2022. Their goal is to make artificial intelligence accessible to all veterinarians in an “affordable and accessible manner,” says Meyers. “Right now there are some programs that are similar to what we’re producing, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they’re not accessible to people like me.”

Artificial intelligence is about “using computing power in ways humans can’t” and “is a way to improve trust, accuracy and efficiency together with the people you work with”.

Vetreum aims to use smartphones and existing technology to help veterinarians perform often expensive or time-consuming tasks more efficiently. The company is still in its early stages but has made significant progress on several projects.

One area where Vetreum is successful is in an automated fecal float analyzer. Fecal flotation is a routine part of veterinary medicine and uses their feces to test for the presence of parasites or worms in an animal. However, these analyzes are time-consuming and require a trained specialist.

Building on the automated parasite egg detector Meyers began in his Veterinary School coursework, Vetreum has developed an automated analyzer that identifies and counts parasite eggs more quickly, allowing more clinics to perform fecal floats. Computer vision technology allows the program “to locate eggs almost as well as top-of-the-line software, but at a much lower cost,” says Meyers.

Vetreum’s goal is to empower the veterinarian and provide access to artificial intelligence in an affordable and accessible way through smartphone-based technology.

In addition, the team is developing a cheaper and more efficient way to scan diagnostic microscope slides with smartphones, allowing the images to be stored in a patient’s medical record or conveniently shared with colleagues.

After a doctor views a diagnostic slide through a microscope, the slide usually becomes just a memory. By merging all views of the microscope slide into one digital image, “Vetreum’s software allows clinicians to replace that memory with a digital copy of the slide,” explains Meyers. There are other technologies for that; However, the machines are expensive and require precision. By using smartphones, Vetreum can offer a lower entry point to capture high-quality images of diagnostic slides.

Vetreum is also working on a white blood cell classifier. A complete blood count test is critical to diagnosing a number of diseases. The Vetreum Leukocyte Classifier would give the same results as a whole blood test but is cheaper to perform and less instrument dependent.

Meyers and Herfel are still exploring how they will implement these technologies, but the AI ​​origins of their system allow for flexibility. Currently they are beta testing a Vetreum app for egg detector, white blood cell classifier and image stitching technology while being open to new directions.

Meyers’ advancements at Vetreum earned him the 2022 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Innovation Award, which recognizes innovation, entrepreneurship and creative, forward-thinking thinking.

“That’s kind of the nice thing about our location,” says Herfel. “There are different approaches that we can take with it.”

Right now they are concentrating on developing the programs and making them as accurate as possible. Meyers’ advancements at Vetreum earned him the 2022 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Innovation Award, a national recognition for innovation, entrepreneurship and creative, forward-thinking student thinking in developing a project or product that inspires others in the veterinary industry.

Despite the company’s promising beginnings, Meyers wants to remain a practicing veterinarian. “Wherever Vetreum goes, it will always help me to be a clinician first,” he says. “I think it puts into perspective what we should be doing and doesn’t forget our mission to support the average professional.”

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Britta Wellenstein

This article will appear in the Winter 2022-23 issue of When calling Magazine.


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