When it comes to the clinic, seeing is more than believing -- it's also a first step to intervening in the progression of disease. So while genomics and proteomics technologies may yield first evidence that something is off in a system, the real clinical payoff comes when one can map the molecular consequences of a condition or drug response in a living biological setting. To that end, VisEn Medical has developed bioimaging tools that the company says are able to return quick, measurable, and physiologically deep read-outs in living animals.
VisEn's technology centers around a fluorescence molecular tomography system and optical probes that together can map disease in vivo. The tomography-based imager can extract signals deep within tissue, while fluorescent probes can tag information on a range of biological states. The technology platform, initially developed at Harvard Medical School by Ralph Weissleder, was designed to meet the need for objective metrics in preclinical disease staging or drug development -- something that neither naked eyes nor conventional camera count-based imagers can do reliably.
"Many of the metrics used in preclinical animal disease models are in the realm of subjective scoring … and in the realm of simple objective measurements like footpad thickness," says Jeff Peterson, VisEn's director of applied biology. Moreover, optical imaging is constrained by the scatter effect of photons in biological tissue, something that not even the most skilled radiologist can calibrate away. Fuzzy pictures do not make for precise knowledge of a biological state.
So instead of measuring footpads as a surrogate of edema response in an arthritic rodent, for example, Peterson says that researchers could use one of VisEn's vascular probes for inflammation, quantify the fluorescence, and emerge with a precise and quantifiable picture of edema response. This all makes for "building robust datasets in clinical models that may someday extrapolate into human clinical assessments of disease," he says.
VisEn has probes tailored for a range of applications, and these may be applied in tandem to look at different aspects of biology in the same animal, Peterson says. At this point, the imaging system is geared to imaging small rodents exclusively, but the technology could also be geared to larger animals. The probes themselves have been shown to cross species well, Peterson says, and many could be easily applied to humans.
The imaging company certainly has an eye on eventually getting the technology to the clinic. Wael Yared, VisEn's vice president of imaging systems, says that the technology's individual constituents are biocompatible and have been used already in clinical environments. In fact, he says that the clinical view "applies across the company's entire imaging plan, from understanding the disease model to structuring the chemistry of the molecular probes, to designing and deploying the imaging system and refining the data analysis that brings it all together." Yared adds that VisEn is looking at lead clinical candidates to go into a sponsored clinical trial this year.