BME alums Brooke and Rege discuss post-graduate entrepreneurial endeavor
After M. Jason Brooke, MSE ’04, spent several years sharing tiny graduate research offices with Abhishek Rege, MSE ’05, PhD ’12, the ability to sing an Indian love song wasn’t the only thing the two men had in common. They realized they also shared a passion for being entrepreneurs — a drive that led the two friends to found Vasoptic Medical in 2012.
Brooke and Rege recently stopped by Clark Hall during National Engineers Week to talk about their experience running the startup at a BME EDGE-sponsored luncheon.
Vasoptic Medical’s XyCAM is based on technology Rege developed while studying optical engineering in Professor Nitish Thakor’s Neuroengineering & Biomedical Instrumentation Lab. Professor Thakor is co-inventor of the technology and today serves as a technical advisor to the company.
The XyCAM consists of a low-cost portable retinal imager and software that is being designed to permit early detection of diabetic retinopathy in primary care settings, including community clinics. This early detection is key to managing the vision-threatening condition.
Although the American Diabetic Association recommends that diabetics get annual eye exams, roughly half do not. “That’s what we’re trying to fix,” says Rege. “We’ve found an opening because we are saying we can help people by positioning an appropriate technology in a location that is convenient for them to access.”
The team is hoping the XyCAM will be cleared for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within two years. Eventually, they’d like to make the device available not just in traditional primary care settings but also in highly accessible places like pharmacies. “We are focused on bringing retinal imaging technology to the patient to provide affordable, quality care to all diabetes patients rather than simply those who have access to an ophthalmologist,” says Brooke.
The company already has received several grants, including a National Institute on Aging Small Business Innovation Research Grant, as well as funding from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Brooke and Rege continue to work closely with the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering on various aspects of the XyCAM’s development and will soon conduct an early feasibility study with their clinical collaborators, Peter Gehlbach and Ingrid Zimmer-Galler, at the Wilmer Eye Institute.
“It’s difficult to think of the ways in which Hopkins hasn’t influenced what we’ve done,” says Brooke. “When investors or potential collaborators say, ‘Oh, this is a Hopkins technology,’ they understand there’s a gravitas that comes with that. That’s a barrier you get to overcome by the fact the fundamental technology spun out of Johns Hopkins.”
BME EDGE (Extramural Development in Graduate Education) was founded in March 2013 to provide additional training opportunities for Johns Hopkins BME PhD students. The group hosts a handful of speakers throughout the academic year.
— Sarah Richards