Professor and team create 3-D holograms of living tissue to discern how well anti-cancer therapies work
Who they are
In 1997, Purdue physics professor David Nolte and a colleague, Paul French at Imperial College in London, explored the concept of peering inside living tissue using the world's most sensitive holographic film, which Nolte had invented and developed at Purdue. Initially, Nolte thought three-dimensional holograms of living tissue were just a cool idea. But a few years later, Dr. Ping Yu, Nolte’s postdoctoral research associate, became the first person to create a 3-D volumetric hologram of living tissue.
After creating these first holograms, Yu discovered that the images displayed extremely subtle internal movements. Because the holographic film was adaptive — constantly changing, adjusting and moving in real time — the researchers were able to view a holographic video fly-through of a living cancerous rat tumor. They soon realized the technique could be applied in diagnostic imaging for medicine and industry. In fact, they believed scientists could use such images to study how live tumors behave in real time, in addition to how cells react to experimental drugs.
What they're doing
In the last two years, Nolte and John Turek, a Purdue professor of basic medical sciences, started using a new method they invented called Holographic Tissue Dynamic Spectroscopy (TDS). They can now identify which cell parts are moving, as well as how they’re moving. Although their research has vast application, the most obvious function is the ability to image tissue before and after applying anti-cancer drugs and track the movements of a cell’s membranes, mitochondria, nucleus and divisions to measure a treatment’s effectiveness.
In 2011, Nolte attended a biomedical screening conference where his developments received interest from pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Novartis. The potential to test drugs quickly and cheaply was compelling to a pharmaceutical industry with fewer new drugs in its product pipelines and expiring patents on its biggest sellers. One factor, Nolte says, may be that researchers rely heavily on test results gleaned from 2-D imaging of cells in culture, outside their normal environment. While drugs may appear effective or ineffective on flat, hard surfaces, they often behave differently in an animal.
How they got there
Since 2008, the researchers have been disclosing their developments through the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) and its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). This is a requirement for intellectual property developed with University resources that also serves to protect Purdue’s and the developers' rights to benefit from it. Nolte also is participating in The Launch Box, a pilot entrepreneurial training course hosted by PRF, which plans to expand the program in fall 2012.
In October of 2011, Nolte and Turek founded Animated Dynamics, a company that focuses on the development and commercialization of live-tissue imaging platform technologies, including novel drug fingerprinting algorithms. Nolte also was a technical founder of Quadraspec, Inc., now Perfinity Biosciences, located in the Purdue Research Park. But he says it’s difficult to extract and apply lessons from one startup to another due to the varying pitfalls and failure modes of entrepreneurship. Relying heavily on angel investment for his first startup, Nolte is taking a different funding approach this time. He and Turek are applying for Small Business Innovation Research awards, a highly competitive program that increases private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from federal research and development funding.
Nolte and his research and business partners also are carving out additional intellectual property space by filing multiple provisional patents on their technologies, including the method by which they create holograms in a stable environment. Building an IP portfolio is important, Nolte says, because it has more value and appeal to investors than a single patent.
"Getting patents filed is the best entry point," Nolte says. "It’s not so much about protecting your intellectual property in a company's infancy; the value lies in getting a stamp of approval from an expert in the United States Government who has looked at your idea and determined that it's new, unique and worthy of protection, and that's appealing to investors."