Alumnus Aims to Make Veterinary Medical Technology More Accessible

Zach Meyers, left, and Nic Herfel, right, cofounded Vetreum in January 2022. The company is pursuing a variety of smart phone-based artificial intelligence diagnostic tools to make veterinary practices and professionals more accurate and efficient.
Zach Meyers, left, and Nic Herfel, right, cofounded Vetreum in January 2022. The company is pursuing smartphone-based artificial intelligence diagnostic tools.

When Zach Meyers DVM’22 took Artificial Intelligence in Veterinary Medicine as a fourth-year student, he didn’t think it’d turn into a business.

“I have always been attracted to computer things,” says Meyers, a 2022 graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. “It sounded wildly interesting. Artificial intelligence is such a cool buzzword.”

The class, taught by professor Dorte Dopfer, is one of several elective courses students can select during their fourth year of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Over two weeks, students explore the potential of machine learning in veterinary medicine. They spend a few days gaining skills in basic computer practices and the fundamentals of machine learning, then quickly start working on individual projects, creating their own machine learning application relevant to veterinary medicine.

Zach Meyers DVM’22

In Meyers’ class, some students worked to train computers to interpret electrocardiograms or to diagnose Addison’s disease in dogs. Meyers taught a computer to detect parasite eggs in fecal samples, an often time-consuming task for people. This concept eventually hatched a company Meyers co-founded called Vetreum.

The parasite egg detector worked better than Meyers had expected by the end of the course. Even after he graduated in May and became a small animal general practitioner 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 a lead data scientist at TDS Telecom, who matched Meyers’s enthusiasm. “We got to talking one day and it just kept spiraling,” Meyers recalls.

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds real potential for the field of medicine across both human and veterinary patients. “Lots of people think of AI as robots,” Herfel explains. But really, it’s about “leveraging computer power in a way that humans can’t” and, in turn, making tasks easier and cheaper.

“AI is a way to improve confidence, accuracy, and efficiency along with the people you work with,” Meyers adds. “The goal is to elevate the everyday veterinary professional.”

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

Artificial intelligence is about “leveraging computer power in a way that humans can’t” and “is a way to improve confidence, accuracy, and efficiency along with the people you work with.”

Vetreum aims to utilize smartphones and preexisting technology to help veterinarians carry out oftentimes expensive or time-consuming tasks more efficiently. The company is still in its early stages, but they’ve made significant progress on several projects.

One area where Vetreum is thriving is with an automatic fecal float analyzer. Fecal flotation is a routine part of veterinary medicine, testing for the presence of parasites or worms in an animal through their fecal matter. However, these analyses take time and require a trained professional.

By building on the automatic parasite egg detector Meyers started in his coursework at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Vetreum has created an automated analyzer that identifies and counts parasite eggs faster, allowing more clinics the ability to perform fecal floats. Through computer vision technology, the program “can locate eggs almost as well as top-of-the-line software, but at a much lower cost,” Meyers says.

Vetreum’s goal is to elevate the veterinary professional and provide access to artificial intelligence in an affordable, accessible way through smartphone-based technology.

Additionally, the team is creating a more affordable and efficient way to scan diagnostic microscope slides using smartphones, allowing for image storage in a patient’s medical record or convenient sharing with colleagues.

Typically, after a doctor views a diagnostic slide through a microscope, the slide becomes just a memory. By placing all views of the microscope slide into one digital image, Vetreum’s software “allows doctors to replace that memory with a digital copy of the slide,” Meyers explains. Other technology exists to do this; however, the machines are costly and require precision. By utilizing smartphones, Vetreum can provide a lower point of entry to capture quality images of diagnostic slides.

Vetreum is also working on a white blood cell classifier. A complete blood count test is crucial in diagnosing a range of diseases. Vetreum’s white blood cell classifier would provide the same results as a full blood test but is cheaper to run and less equipment-dependent.

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

Meyers’ progress with Vetreum earned him the 2022 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Innovation Award, recognizing innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative forward-thinking.

“That’s kind of the beauty of where we are at,” Herfel says. “There are different approaches we can take with it.”

For now, they are focused on developing the programs and making them as accurate as possible. Meyers’ progress with Vetreum earned him the 2022 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Innovation Award, a national recognition of students’ innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative forward-thinking in developing a project or product that inspires others within the veterinary profession.

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

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Britta Wellenstein

This article appears in the winter 2022-23 issue of On Call magazine.

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