When you think of a microscope, you probably envision the one your parents got for you at Christmas as a kid, or the ones from high school biology class.
In the medical world, we’re talking about something a little bit different – in the neighbourhood of $300K to $500K. When you make that investment, and a person’s accurate diagnosis is on the line, you need to make sure the equipment is in peak condition.
Dr. Kamala Patel, immunologist, president and co-founder of Luxidea – a Calgary-based solutions incubator – said their Optislides product does just that. They’re real-world microscope slides showing different tissue samples in multiple colours.
She said the live cell imaging laboratory at the University of Calgary has these high-powered microscopes. If they could have purchased these kind of test slides to start, they would have.
“The slides that are in the market are about 20 years out of date, and they just simply don’t do the job. So, we created off the slides,” Patel said.
“The point is that each one of these slides was created to optimize, showcase and test these high-performance machines.”
Not your high school lab microscope
Patel said that inside the tissues on the microscope, they’ve targeted certain proteins with fluorescent markers. The microscope then “excites” the markers and then detects them.
“If anything (in the microscope) is out of alignment, you won’t see a sharp, clear image, and you won’t be able to understand what’s happening in that disease, whether it’s cancer, Alzheimer’s disease,” Patel said.
She said you have to ensure the light paths are working, the lasers and cameras are operating and that they’re all working in sync.
Some microscopes are designed to go into deep tissue. Optislides has deep tissue slide samples as well.
“If you’ve got this precious sample, and you want to test whether or not a new drug will change the behaviour, you don’t want to sit down at that microscope and have it not work, or worse yet, have it out of alignment,” Patel said.
“It sends you down a garden path with misinformation.”
That’s why you need a tool to keep your machine calibrated, she said.
Before this, Patel said she’s had microscopy reps come in with sushi samples to show deep tissue on the slides. She’s heard of others going out to get brain samples or using Jell-o with beads suspended in them.
Some reps just ask for their Optislides and curated their own collection to test the microscopes, Patel said.
Strategy is key
Patel is a researcher at the University of Calgary. She’s been the executive director of the live cell imaging laboratory for more than 20 years. On top of that, she’s the deputy director of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.
Patel knows her stuff, medically speaking.
Luxidea is a spin-off from the University of Calgary to take ideas like this and make them commercial. Some ideas are a solution for one, Patel admitted.
“Others have the potential to help other people and they’re trapped. Because we’re scientists, we don’t necessarily know how to do this,” she said.
Where the Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program helped is in building a strategy – from customer persona to cash flow and how to go to market – Patel said.
“I could know representatives at the big four (Nikon, Olympus, Zeiss, Leica) from now till doomsday, but it’s not going to create a product with packaging, with our marketing collaterals describing all the slides for our clients,” she said.
“We wouldn’t have these things without recognizing that huge gap.”
Patel said the microscopy industry is pretty big itself – around $20 billion. The accessories are a much smaller portion of that. She estimates the North American market is around $20 million. They’re focused on carving out $3 million per year from that pie.
Over the next three to five years, the goal is to mature and ultimately exit. Then, Patel said, move on to the next product.
“Luxidea is ultimately the engine, the engine that will take additional ideas, identify them, develop them, get them into the market and gone – and then the next one and the next one,” she said.
“So, ultimately to be an incubator type of company that really focuses initially on optical microscopy, but ultimately, other innovations found in the lab.”