U-M Spinout OcuSciences Is Medical Main Street Innovator of the Year

OcuSciences, an Ann Arbor, MI-based medical device startup spun out of technology developed at the University of Michigan, has been named the “innovator of the year” by Medical Main Street, an initiative to establish Oakland County as a center of innovation in medical research and development, education, and commercialization.

The award honors the inventors of a medical device that demonstrates the most dramatic change in Michigan’s healthcare industry. To be eligible, the device must have been developed in Michigan, must have achieved prototype development and validation, and must incorporate what the organization deems a game-changing innovation.

Kurt Riegger, president and chief operating officer of OcuSciences, says his company has developed a proprietary ocular imaging technique called “retinal metabolic analysis” that can assess how fast certain eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, are progressing by checking the health of the retinal tissue.

Degenerating or diseased retinal tissue will show impaired metabolic activity before irreversible cell damage occurs, he says. Instead of injecting dye to check the tissue, an optometrist can use OcuSciences’ device to shine a blue light onto the retina in the back of the eye, which makes impaired cells emit a green glow. A camera then records the green glow and sends the image to a computer, which figures out how advanced the disease is by analyzing characteristics of the glowing light. The test is designed to detect eye damage before it gets severe.

“I think the major use case is by optometrists and ophthalmologists to see if the care is sufficiently controlling the disease,” Riegger says, adding that eye disease associated with diabetes gets worse over time. “It’s a noninvasive way to determine mitochondrial instability and metabolic stress.”

OcuSciences was established in 2008 and currently has five employees. Though Riegger declined to give specifics, he says the company accepted outside investment “in the early going,” and is currently working with partners in big pharma to prove that the device works. He hopes to have it on the market by 2015.

“We’re working on investigating the device with our partners, and our partners have already found additional uses for it,” Riegger adds.

Riegger says that OcuSciences is also a data analysis company, so the long-term goal is for the startup to sell its device and then “have one of the major device makers take it over.” A second, more advanced device is also in the early stages of development, he says.

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