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Needle microscope wins SPIE Startup Challenge

13 Feb 2014

Researchers from Australia's UWA triumph with new approach to breast cancer detection.

Western Australian researchers fighting breast cancer have won the final of an international technology competition sponsored by SPIE, the owner of optics.org.

Associate Professor Robert McLaughlin, from The University of Western Australia's Optical and Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, near Perth, won SPIE’s annual Start Up Challenge for his presentation of the team’s “Microscope in a Needle” project and received a $10,000 cash prize* and the opportunity to attend a week-long entrepreneur "boot camp".

McLaughlin’s team’s winning development is a miniature OCT probe inside a needle designed to help surgeons remove tumors in breast cancer patients. Besides the cash, he also won $5,000 worth of Edmund Optics products to support further commercialization of the development.

He fought off tough competition to win the international contest, including leading researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Toronto as well as CEOs of technology companies. The fast-paced business pitch competition invites new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technologies product in front of a judging team of business development experts and venture capitalists.

McLaughlin told the gathering of industrialists and academics at last week’s Photonics West expo in San Francisco, “Our goal is to commercialize a technique that can help guide surgeons to perform safer, more effective breast cancer surgery. We are lucky to be working with an excellent team of surgeons, pathologists and radiologists in Western Australia."

Improved surgery

He explained the need for his microscope-in-a-needle technology: “We have made a device that helps a surgeon find the edge of a tumor. It’s a mini-fiber optic probe inside a needle that helps perform biopsies below the skin’s surface.

"This will improve success of surgeries, help to remove tumors completely and should reduce the 25% figure of repeat surgeries currently necessary when malignant material is missed the first time.”

The second prize of $5,000 was awarded to Nicholas Durr at MIT and PlenOptika for his low-cost device to determine spectacle prescriptions economically to improve eyecare in developing countries. Third prize of $2,500 went to Amos Danielli at MagBiosense for a heart biosensor.

See Robert McLaughlin's winning presentation on this SPIE video from the competition.

* The SPIE Startup Challenge is supported by founding sponsor Jenoptik, as well as Trumpf, Open Photonics and Knobbe Martens.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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