"Market education" challenges novel medical imaging device startup

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Brandon Glenn

A Case Western Reserve University spinoff is planning to commercialize its high-resolution imaging technology that allows preclinical researchers to see the exact location of single cells and displays the information in a 3-D reconstruction of a mouse.

Mayfield Village, Ohio-based BioInVision is kicking off the formal marketing launch of its “cryo-imaging” service at the World Molecular Imaging Congress this week in San Diego, president Debashish Roy said.

The technology is so sensitive that it allows researchers to drill down to view the location of single cells in an animal’s particular organ. That level of detail is desirable to pharmaceutical and stem cell researchers who’d like to see exactly how the substances they’re studying are distributed in the body.

Broadly speaking, BioInVision “wants to help our customers solve biotechnology problems with our unique imaging solutions,” Roy said.

The company aims to do that through its “cryo-imaging” technology, co-invented by Roy and David Wilson, a professor in Case’s department of biomedical engineering. “For a researcher, it’s like virtually dissecting a mouse,” Roy says of the technology.

Here’s how it works: First, a mouse is euthanized and flash frozen. Its body is then placed in the cryo-imaging device, which cuts the body into about 500-plus ultra-thin slices. The slices are imaged at a very high resolution and more than 10,000 images (that’s over 60 GB of data) are stored in a powerful software application. The software program then uses these images to create a 3-D reconstruction of the animal that researchers can digitally zoom in and out of to navigate throughout the body. By tagging the cells of interest with off-the-shelf fluorescent-labeling kits, researchers can view the location of single cells anywhere within the mouse.

One big advantage to BioInVision’s business model is that, since its device is only intended for animal use, it doesn’t need any of the sometimes-lengthy and expensive federal regulatory reviews required of devices intended for use in humans.

The company is taking a two-pronged approach to its business: First, customers can ship frozen samples for BioInVision technicians to process, and then the company will deliver back to customers over the web images and the movies of the reconstructed 3-D digital mouse. Or customers can simply buy the cryo-imaging equipment for themselves, though Roy acknowledges that the device is expensive.

BioInVision has thus far sold “a couple” of the devices, though the service part of its business currently plays a bigger role. Availability of the company’s services has spread only through “word of mouth” among big research institutions and drug companies so far, since BioInVision hasn’t yet engaged in much formal marketing, he said.

That gets at what Roy calls the company’s biggest challenge: market education.

“As with any new technology, we need to first go out and educate the potential customer to its benefit,” he said.

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