Nicky Blackburn
January 11, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

The Contour 1 at work – the UltraShape technology is based on focused ultrasound, which ruptures and destroys fat cells, without damaging any other tissueHaving a thin and shapely body is the dream of many, but dieting is unpredictable, and the thought of liposuction, with its high costs and associated health risks, is often too high a price to bear.

Now Israeli company Ultrashape has developed a unique new body-contouring device that “blasts” unwanted fat from the body, notably the stomach, thighs and bottom, creating the same effects as liposuction without any of the associated health risks.

The device, called Contour 1, which has already gone on sale in Europe, is to be launched in the US later this year after receiving FDA approval. The UltraShape technology is based on focused ultrasound, which ruptures and destroys fat cells, without damaging any other tissue. The fat cells are then cleared naturally from the body by the immune system over the next three weeks, in much the same way that the body clears out damaged tissue from a bruise. Because of this delay, only small amounts of fat can be broken down per treatment – some 500cc of fat at each treated site. Treatments can be carried out every month, however.

UltraShape describes its treatment as a “lunch-hour” procedure because it takes a short amount of time, is painless, 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 to see a cosmetician during the day and then return to work immediately afterwards.

Patients who undergo the procedure see a noticeable difference in their body shapes, with many reporting centimeters of fat taken off the treated areas. It is not cheap, however. Treatments can cost anything between $1,400 to $1,700, or more, depending on the size of the area one wishes to treat.

First sales of Contour 1 began in the UK in July 2005, a month after the device received CE approval. Before this, UltraShape held clinical trials in the UK, Israel, Japan, and at two centers in the US in Dallas, Texas and Santa Monica, California. The trials, which test the safety, toxicity and efficacy of the treatment, have all been a success. The studies showed that most people saw a reduction of about 2.5cm. in circumference after one treatment. Ongoing trials continue in the US.

UltraShape has also carried out trials that show the effects of the treatment last for up to three months. Yoram Eshel, UltraShape’s founder and CEO, says new trials are now planned to discover how long the effects last, though he adds, “Technically if you look at the text books, if a procedure lasts for three months it is likely to last permanently. The other temporary solutions on the market do not last three months; instead they might last two to three weeks.”

Eshel, a medical physicist, admits, however, that this is not a miracle solution. “We sculp the body, but we cannot make someone stop eating, go on a diet, or take exercise. If a patient who undergoes the treatment continues to eat as before, there is a chance that either the remaining fat cells in the sculpted location begin to enlarge, or that the fat will be redistributed to other locations,” he told ISRAEL21c.

“You can’t expect to stay thin if you eat hamburger and chips every day. But UltraShape remains a very legitimate part of the whole environment of improving your appearance.”

Since Contour 1 hit the market in July, just under 500 patients have carried out the procedure worldwide. Eshel believes that UltraShape’s technology has the power to dramatically open up the market for unwanted fat removal.

Today, liposuction is the most popular aesthetic surgical procedure in the US, with just under 500,000 procedures carried out every year by certified plastic surgeons, and a further 250,000 to 500,000 procedures carried out by other surgeons. Some $1.3 billion is spent on liposuction in the US every year, making it even more popular than treatments than Botox, which now brings in $1.1 billion a year.

One of the reasons that liposuction, which was invented 20 years ago, is so popular is that four liters of fat can be removed in one operation. The problem, however, is that it is an invasive and often painful procedure that must be performed under a general anesthetic. It can also be hazardous since lung tissue and blood can be suctioned out with the fat. The mortality rate is 20 deaths per 100,000 procedures. Another problem with the procedure is that it is limited to large deformities.

“If you have a small amount of fat the physician won’t carry out liposuction because it’s hard to get a good aesthetic result,” Eshel warns.

“130 million Americans go on some kind of diet every year, and only one million carry out liposuction,” says Eshel. “Where are the other 129 million? We know the answer. Most of these people are intimidated by liposuction. The majority do not want it. Our treatment is not an alternative to liposuction; it is for people who will not even consider the surgery.”

While dieting seems to be an ideal answer, and probably the cheapest option of all, Eshel says that diets are often ineffective. “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.”

The whole problem with dieting, explains Eshel, is that we have a certain number of fat cells in our body that are formed in the first few years after birth. If we gain weight in life, we increase the size of the fat cells. If we diet, we shrink cell size. To really change the contour of a person?s body you need to get rid of a certain number of fat cells altogether so the person cannot gain weight in this place again.

UltraShape was founded in May 2000 by Eshel and his partner, Ami Glicksman, formerly a plastic surgeon at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. The company was incorporated in Delaware, with R&D in Tel Aviv, and in its first four years raised $3.5m. from private investors in two rounds. In 2004, UltraShape raised a further $6m. from Israel Seed Partners.

Today, UltraShape’s device is on sale in Europe, Asia Pacific, South America, and Canada. Though sales only began in the summer, the company now has 15 distribution agreements worldwide, and has sold dozens of devices worth several million dollars. In September, two months after sales began, the company became profitable. Next year it expects to achieve tens of millions of dollars in sales.

UltraShape now plans a round of fund-raising, and hopes to raise $15 million from two US venture capital funds. The round is being handled by Citigroup and one of the reasons behind the move is to finance consolidation in the US market. The company is planning to set up expanded representative offices in the US early this year, and has already hired an operations manager.

Currently the company has 55 employees, a number that will rise to 100 by the end of next year, says Eshel. Manufacturing is all carried out in Israel.

UltraShape is now working on a new application for its technology – treating cellulite. Up to now, work on this has been going ahead slowly as UltraShape focuses on its first target market. Eshel promises, however, that work on a treatment for cellulite – the fatty skin that dimples many women’s bodies – will now speed up. This treatment, which is patent-pending, will be one of the first effective treatments for this skin problem.

“Things are progressing as we expected. We have built an excellent team and are building a strong company.”

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