Ultrashape says it has a safer, less invasive alternative to liposuction for those seeking a more perfect profile. There’s one thing that aesthetic treatment company Ultrashape is unlikely ever to be short of when it carries out clinical trials – patients. Already the two-year-old Tel Aviv company is receiving hundreds of e-mails from women eager to try its system out to see if they really can reshape their bodies as the company promises.

Ultrashape works in the “body-sculpting” sector, the removal of unwanted fat from different parts of the body – notably the stomach, thighs and bottom. Body sculpting, including liposuction, as an alternative to dieting, is a large and growing market.

“Most of us aren’t satisfied with our body image,” said Yoram Eshel, a medical physicist who founded the company in May 2000 with Ami Glicksman, a plastic surgeon at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. “People go on diets but 90 percent of them go back to their original weight once the diet is finished. Dieting is also very non-targeted. You might want to lose weight from your hips, but you lose weight elsewhere instead.”

Today liposuction, which was invented 20 years ago, is the No. 1 aesthetic surgery procedure in the world. In 2001, 840,000 Americans, 85 percent of whom were women, spent an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion on liposuction, a 21 percent increase from 2000.

But, liposuction is an invasive and often painful procedure that requires a general anesthetic, resulting in a mortality factor of about 20 deaths per 100,000 procedures. Ultrashape achieves the same results by destroying fat cells non-invasively.

Ultrashape’s ultrasonic transducer, which includes an imaging system to control the treatment and a real-time optical tracking and guidance system, uses ultrasound to rupture and destroy fat cells. Because fat cells are more sensitive to the ultrasound, the treatment can be carried out without any damage to other types of tissue, muscles, nerves or lymph and blood vessels. The ruptured fat cells are then cleared from the body over the next three weeks, in much the same way that the body clears out damaged tissue from a bruise.

Ultrashape describes its treatment as a “lunch-hour” procedure because it takes a short amount of time, has no negative side effects, and can be carried out in a supervised environment like a spa rather than an operating room. Patients can pop in for a quick visit in the middle of the day and then return to work immediately afterwards. The company says the procedure is painless.

The company began clinical trials in Israel in July on patients waiting for aesthetic liposuctions. The trials will test the safety and toxicity of the company’s treatment and will be concluded in September. Further trials will take place in the United States and Europe in about nine months.

Ultrashape’s advisory board includes Dr. Rod Rohrich, chairman of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who is to become the new president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons; and Franklin L. Dispaltro, the current president of ASPS. Rohrich will be holding the company’s first clinical trial in the United States at his hospital.

Eshel said sales to the United States will begin in 2004 once the company obtains U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company plans to sell its device for about $100,000. The attached probe will be sold as a consumable item that will last for about 40 hours. Sales will be through established distributors in the cosmetic surgery field. Some distributors have already approached the company and Lumenis, the Israeli aesthetic devices company, has also shown interest.

Aside from the advantages to the patient, Eshel also believes this system will be attractive to plastic surgeons and dermatologists because they will be able to earn more per procedure.

“Even taking into account the capital equipment and the consumable probe, physicians will earn about 30 percent more than on liposuction. Our device will save them the cost of the operating room and the anesthesia,” Eshel said.

Another attractive feature for the physician is that they will not have to do the treatment themselves – a technician can do the job, saving the doctor time and money.

Since Ultrashape was incorporated in Delaware it has raised $2 million from private investors, including $500,000 at seed stage. Every month these investors pump another $100,000 into the company to cover the burn rate. The company is now hoping to raise an additional $5 million and is in due diligence with several U.S. VC firms.