Faculty startup receives $750,000 NSF award

03/29/2017 - 7:51am

A biotech startup at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has just received a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research Phase II funding award from the National Science Foundation to develop a handheld device that even non-specialists can use to quickly detect severe eye injuries, whether it is in a farm field or on a battlefield.

“This technology will transform the current standard of care for eye professionals and enable them to have an objective measure that can warn about possible wound leaks,” stated Dr. Leanne Labriola, an ophthalmologist at Carle and co-founder of InnSight Technology Inc. with Bioengineering Assistant Professor Dipanjan Pan. “Our sensor detects ascorbic acid—vitamin C—a chemical that is 20 times more concentrated inside the eye than on the tear film. If there is severe damage to the eye that penetrates deeply, the ascorbic acid will leak out in high concentration. We will be able to identify seriousness of the problems earlier and more efficiently to prevent further complications from wound leaks, including infection and chronic low pressure in the eye of failed surgery.”

Bioengineering faculty member Dipanjan Pan and Carle doctor Leanne Labriola are co-founders of InnSight Technology.
Bioengineering faculty member Dipanjan Pan and Carle doctor Leanne Labriola are co-founders of InnSight Technology.
“The goal of the Phase I project was to demonstrate proof-of-concept of developing a novel biosensor to evaluate the integrity of the anterior surface of the eye by measuring the concentration of ascorbic acid in the tear film at the point-of-care,” explained Pan. “Phase II includes the development of a useful biosensor probe and a disposable detection strip to predict ocular integrity. The sensor can be used for assessment of post-surgical wounds, but also for clear corneal or traumatic penetrating wounds of the cornea.”

Added Pan: “We are very happy that the technology has evolved quite a bit through our Phase I funding. It is a highly robust project and we have recently published two papers to demonstrate that detection sensitivity can be reached very low with a sample operating volume in microliter range. Phase II funding will enable us to conduct comprehensive clinical studies at multiple sites including Carle Hospital and New York University.”

To develop and market this technology, Labriola and Pan co-founded InnSight Technology Inc., which is located in the University of Illinois’ Research Park. The company’s first product, the OcuCheck sensor, incorporates a microfluidic chamber that will capture a tear flow sample directly on a biosensor chip. Printed circuit boards will interface with biosensor strips to provide skinless electrical connection and reading output on screen.

According to the co-founders, this technology will impact a large number of patients who undergo ocular surgeries and develop leaking post-surgical wounds each year. The device can also be applicable to other anterior ocular incisions, including monitoring of post-cataract (3.6 million surgeries per year in the U.S.) or post-corneal surgeries (50,000 surgeries per year). It will be especially useful for post-operative management in remote areas or third world countries where access to an eye specialist is limited.

“Enabling the non-ophthalmologist to be able to accurately diagnose patients with wound complications will decrease the number of unnecessary referrals to specialists, making room for the critical patients with acute issues to be prioritized,” Labriola said.

“We are very appreciative of the support of Jed Taylor and the team at EnterpriseWorks, the startup incubator at Research Park,” said Pan, who is also the director of the Master of Engineering in Bioengineering program at Illinois. “They have been instrumental in finding development funding, and they have offered advice for moving an idea from the lab to the marketplace.” The company expects to have OcuCheck on the market within the next two to three years.

OcuCheck prototype device
OcuCheck prototype device
Two previously published papers on this technology from Pan’s research group include:

Khan MS, Misra SK, Schwartz-Duval AS, Daza E, Ostadhossein F, Bowman M, Jain A, Taylor G, McDonagh D, Labriola LT, Pan D. “Real-Time Monitoring of Post-Surgical and Post-Traumatic Eye Injuries Using Multilayered Electrical Biosensor Chip.” ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. 2017 Mar 15;9(10):8609-8622. doi: 10.1021/acsami.7b01675.

Gartia MR, Misra SK, Ye M, Schwartz-Duval A, Plucinski L, Zhou X, Kellner D, Labriola LT, Pan D. “Point-of-service, quantitative analysis of ascorbic acid in aqueous humor for evaluating anterior globe integrity.” Scientific Reports, 2015 Nov 3;5:16011. doi: 10.1038/srep16011.

Contact: dipanjan [at] illinois [dot] edu (Dipanjan Pan), University of Illinois Department of Bioengineering, 217/244-2938.