This Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I project proposes a new instrument for imaging live cells and tissues. The instrument addresses the current shortcomings of state-of-the art techniques: expensive and invasive contrast agents that bias the results and shorten the lifetime of the experiment, extensive sample preparation and high power light sources required for good image contrast. The technology behind the instrument - Quantitative Phase Imaging (QPI) requires no sample preparation and affords long term (days/weeks) quantitative imaging of live, unstained cells and tissues at a fraction of the cost of a research grade microscope. Customer discovery results will drive the research objectives for Phase I: 1) development of a minimum viable product (MVP) that will satisfy the most common requirements of life sciences users, 2) developing the operating software for the MVP and 3) preliminary design of the Phase II fully automated quantitative phase imaging system. Phase I research efforts will deliver a prototype with two components: the hardware module that snaps onto existing off-the-shelf optical microscopes, and the software module, which affords data acquisition, phase decoding, displaying, and analysis. The software will include optional toolboxes that will be application specific.
The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that it will improve human health at several different levels and will contribute toward maintaining the United States edge in the area of high-tech biomedicine. Initial target market for the QPI-based instrument consists of scientists with access to research grade microscopes in the biotech and pharmaceutical (Bio-Pharma) industry and academia. Major OEMs of scientific instruments have asked for licenses to integrate various ranges of the QPI technology into their systems. The instrument enables novel cancer drug discovery by accurate, label-free monitoring of cell response to treatment, automatic cancer diagnosis of biopsies and blood testing, enhances fundamental understanding of cell function (differentiation, proliferation, and death). Due to its full automation, the QPI-based instrument can operate in areas with limited access to trained personnel and provide the digital data necessary for remote diagnosis. The obtained images are quantitative, meaning that there is no calibration necessary when operating the instrument at different sites. These features recommend the QPI technology for applications of global coverage, such as screening for malaria in under-served populations of the United States and the World.
This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project proposed to develop a faster, inexpensive, and more accurate optical microscope for the life sciences market. Current state of the art instrumentation for imaging live cell and tissues has limited accuracy, is invasive, labor-intensive and expensive. Phi Optics technology – Quantitative Phase Imaging (QPI) – requires no sample preparation and renders 3D quantitative images of live, unstained cells and tissues at a fraction of the cost of a research grade microscope. Phi Optics fulfilled all the proposed objectives for this Phase I: we designed and built a proof-of-concept QPI-SLIM prototype system (hardware and software), and performed preliminary design of the Phase II prototype. Throughout Phase I effort, Phi Optics team has interacted with over 125 potential customers and received enthusiastic feedback, with some – including major OEM microscopy suppliers – scheduling trips to visit Phi Optics facility in person. The interactions included conversations with decision level executives and scientists in life sciences industry and end-users in academia. These conversations indicated there is a real market need to commercialize Phi Optics technology and resulted in an OEM agreement for integrating research grade optical microscopes in the Phi Optics brand, purchase orders for commercial grade QPI-SLIM systems at the time they become available and funding for research agreements to develop task-specific software applications for Phi Optics prototypes. The market interest validation has also resulted in a successful round of private placement that will support the commercialization effort during Phase II of the SBIR program. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that it will result in commercialization of a technology that will improve human health at several different levels. A successful launch will also contribute toward maintaining the US edge in the area of high-tech biomedicine. Phi Optics will create 10 new jobs in the next three years, with many more to be added as the production is scaled-up. The range of tasks for QPI-enabled microscopes will include novel drug discovery by accurate monitoring of cell response to treatment, automatic diagnosis of cancer biopsies and various blood diseases testing, and fundamental studies of cell functions. Due to its full automation, QPI instruments will operate in areas with limited access to trained personnel and provide the digital data necessary for remote diagnosis. The images are quantitative, meaning that there is no calibration necessary when operating the instrument at different sites. These features recommend the QPI technology for applications of global coverage, such as screening for malaria in under-served populations of the United States.