Over the last year we have developed the Visikol HISTO tool which can acquire huge quantities of 3D data from tissue - Michael chatted last week on a panel at the NJ Tech Council HealthTech Conference about the platform and big data in the healthcare space. We are working hard to turn our data into actionable insights for researchers and pharmaceutical companies.
As researchers optimize the Visikol HISTO process for their immunolabels of interest, it is important to use smaller tissues before proceeding to whole organs like the brain. This saves the researcher a lot of time and money through the optimization process and ensures that they achieve the best results possible. To help researchers with cutting their tissues into smaller pieces, we have added coronal and sagittal 2mm brain slicers to the Visikol store.
When we first launched Visikol HISTO in late 2016 we did not have a reliable protocol for use with fluorescent proteins and the technique would result in FP quenching. To address this problem we have developed two new protocols that allow for Visikol HISTO to be used with FP and immunolabeling at the same time.
See Visikol HISTO in action with a tdTomato mouse brain below that was imaged with a LaVision BioTec Ultramicroscope II
After launching Visikol HISTO we got a lot of questions from researchers on how best to image their tissues and to mount them. To address this problem we have introduced the ClearWell™ which is a silicon well that sticks to glass microscope slides and allows for Visikol HISTO to be used with a wide array of tissue thicknesses and objectives. We currently have three different ClearWell sizes to allow for imaging of all tissue thicknesses.
In a recent publication from Kyung Hee Univeristy in Korea, researchers used Visikol for Plant Biology to study seed shattering using GUS staining with tissue clearing.
Xena Flowers and Dr. Jeffrey Goodman from the Department of Developmental Neurobiology, NYS Institute for Basic Research and the College of Staten Island have been using Visikol HISTO to evaluate traumatic brain injury (TBI) in rat brains in 3D. Specifically, they have been characterizing the impact of TBI on the blood brain barrier. Stay tuned for a publication describing their work!
Visikol was recently selected by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer as one of the best Univeristy Startups in the country. The University Startups Conference and Demo Day brings together a diverse audience of university Startup Officers, university startups, entrepreneurs, Fortune 1000/Global 1000 corporations, VCs, angel investors, policy leaders, and federal government agencies. The event provides a venue to form and maintain robust transaction networks among the participants with the aim to align university IP and startups with investor and corporate needs.
Once a year, the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network provides the entrepreneurial community with an afternoon of posters and networking for startups in New Jersey. Poster presenters introduce their businesses to important contacts among New Jersey’s research universities, small and large business, potential funding sources and professional service providers.
The event was held at Princeton Univeristy and this year’s keynote speaker at the event was Jesse Treu, PhD of Domain Associates
Michael Johnson represented Visikol at the event and was awarded “Best in Class” amongst many other highly successful startups from New Jersey.
Each year, Visikol attends the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual Meeting with experts in toxicology from around the world. At SOT this year, the Visikol team discussed their Visikol TOX platform for DART studies as well as their Visikol HISTO platform for the 3D visualization of spheroids.
This year Michael Johnson presented a poster on the Visikol TOX process during the conference, comparing Visikol TOX skeletal processing for DART studies to traditional KOH-based processing. The Visikol TOX technology platform has the potential to accelerate DART studies by up to 30%, allowing contract research organizations to get studies back to pharmaceutical companies more quickly. For more, check out the poster here.
Over the last few months Visikol has launched the Visikol HISTO platform for the 3D histological visualization whole tissues. The team has applied this technology in the toxicology and drug development space to specifically improve the characterization of spheroids. Spheroids are 3D cell culture models that are starting to be used frequently for the drug development process as they more accurately mimic in vivo tissues than traditional 2D in vitro models. However, until Visikol HISTO, the characterization of spheroids was limited to 2D and 1D assays that limit the utility of spheroids and the information that can be obtained.
With Visikol HISTO, we are starting to move beyond traditional single end-point spheroid assays and towards whole spheroid characterization. Instead of just receiving a single data-point from a spheroid, Visikol HISTO allows researchers to better understand how drugs are interacting in 3D with spheroid models. We started offering Visikol HISTO kits and reagents in the fall of 2016 and are currently expanding our capacity for spheroid-specific characterization assays.
Visikol TOX for DART Studies
When we first devised the Visikol TOX platform in 2014, it was not entirely clear to us the value that it would have in the toxicology field. However, through the last three years of development we have transformed this technology into a robust skeletal visualization platform for developmental and reproductive toxicology studies that increases throughput by up to 30%, reducing costs and allowing therapeutics to get to market more quickly. We recently completed the development of this platform and are now offering it for use in developmental and reproductive toxicology (DART) studies, at a cost of $650 per study.
DART studies are one of the most expensive and time-consuming components of the regulatory data required to bring a new chemical entity into the marketplace. In these studies, pregnant animals (rats, rabbits, mice) are dosed with chemicals of interest and the impact of these chemicals on the development of fetuses is investigated. While these studies entail several concurrent processes, the biggest bottleneck in this process is the gross visualization of fetuses for skeletal abnormalities.
For over 90 years, scientists have visualized the gross skeletal morphology of animals using a process called diaphonization, where bones are stained with a red dye called Alizarin (sometimes with blue Alcian cartilage staining) and soft tissues are digested away with a strong base (potassium hydroxide) to reveal the stained bones. While this process is the gold standard for skeletal visualization in all DART studies, it can take up to two weeks for fetal rabbits, can destroy tissues, and requires consistent oversight.
With Visikol TOX we have replaced this destructive and slow process with a rapid and non-destructive process that leverages the Visikol tissue clearing technology. Instead of digesting the soft tissues to visualize bone, the tissue is rendered transparent, resulting in the same endpoint in 2-4 days instead of the traditional 7 to 14 days. We recently demonstrated in a 3rd party GLP equivalency study with Product Safety Labs (Dayton, NJ) that the Visikol TOX approach was equivalent in end-point to the traditional approach while drastically reducing tissue processing time.
We have designed Visikol TOX to be a drop in replacement to traditional KOH-based skeletal processing and are currently working with several CRO’s to integrate it into their DART workflow. All of the Visikol TOX reagents to conduct a 480 fetal rat study cost $650 and the technique can accelerate overall DART study time by up to 30%.
Building Visikol continues to be an amazingly fun, challenging, and rewarding endeavor. Every morning, I find myself checking my email right away to see what feedback we have gotten from our customers, and what complex research problems researchers are using our products to investigate. This feedback continually reminds me of why we launched Visikol in the first place – to accelerate innovation and to allow researchers to ask and answer new questions.
Over the last few months we have celebrated many firsts – On February 24th we celebrated our first anniversary as Visikol, Inc. and in January we brought on our first new team member: Dr. Graeme Gardner from Rutgers University. We are thrilled by the progress that we have made so far and are excited to continue to grow the company:
Visikol HISTO Progress:
To date, 300 research labs in 30 countries have used Visikol HISTO, and the feedback that we have received so far has been just fantastic. Bringing an enabling technology into the marketplace is a challenging process fraught with many roadblocks. Through beta-testing Visikol HISTO with researchers in new applications and soliciting feedback, we have been able to uncover these roadblocks and find strategies to mitigate them. To help our users get the most out of Visikol, we continually update and improve our product guidance with all the feedback received from researchers. If you are interested in learning more, please see our updated Visikol HISTO Guidebook.
Visikol TOX Progress:
Of all of the things that we have completed thus far, I am most proud of the Visikol TOX product for developmental and reproductive toxicology studies. Since inventing Visikol TOX in 2014, we have turned it into a valuable bio-imaging platform that not only accelerates the drug discovery process, but also reduces the number of animals required in toxicology studies. Visikol TOX represents to me the great synergies of our team as Tom, Nick, and I all worked on different components that came together to create a valuable and highly impactful platform.
Our team has absolutely no shortage of great ideas and we find ourselves continually submitting grants for new applications of the Visikol HISTO technology as well as other novel bio-imaging ideas. We are very fortunate that there are programs like the NIH and NSF small business innovation research grants (SBIR) that fund innovative and cutting edge technology development. In December and January we submitted for six Phase I SBIR grants with collaborators and expect to hear back on most of these grants in the near future. We are optimistic about these projects as we have teamed up with some great collaborators! We also submitted our Phase II NSF SBIR after the successful completion of our NSF Phase I project, and are very excited at the prospect of continuing our NSF funded research. Our goal for 2017 is to further expand our R&D efforts through the use of SBIR grants, and we have placed significant time and effort on these. Since launching Visikol we have submitted thirteen, been rejected from five, been awarded one, and are waiting to hear back on seven.
Things to come:
In the next few months you will see significant developments from our team around Visikol HISTO assays for spheroid visualization. Drug discovery is undergoing a paradigm shift where in-vitro work is moving from 2-D cell based assays to 3D cell based assays as they more accurately depict in-vivo tissues. However, researchers are still using 2D (histology) and 1D assays (total ATP) to evaluate these 3D spheroids, ignoring the spatial features that make them intrinsically more valuable than 2D cell cultures. We are developing 3D assays for spheroids that will allow researchers to move beyond traditional endpoints (IC50) and towards evaluating the spatial heterogeneity of spheroids. For example, we will enable companies to understand where their antibodies are targeting within tumors (necrotic core, periphery) and the type of cell these drugs target.
As we are now gaining traction in the marketplace with Visikol HISTO and Visikol TOX, our focus is shifting from pure research and development, to commercialization and the application of the Visikol HISTO platform to several areas including spheroids. We are excited to apply the Visikol HISTO technology to new problems and will be shifting to spending considerable resources on commercialization in the second half of the year.
I look forward to sharing more great news with you in Q2! Thanks for following our progress.
When we first launched Visikol HISTO back in August, it was a general purpose tool with general protocols and guidelines. While this platform worked very well for a wide range of tissue types and sizes, our initial beta testers asked us to optimize the protocols for speed and cost in a few of the most used tissues. Over the last six months we have been collaborating with several research partners to develop application specific protocols that are optimized for these specific usages. One of the first applications we will launch is a method for the 3D visualization of spheroids, a type of in-vitro model that is being rapidly adopted in the drug discovery process. And recently, we completed the development of a spheroid specific Visikol HISTO protocol that drastically cuts down processing time and steps compared to our original protocol. To check out this updated protocol and background on spheroids, click here.
Back in August of 2016 we started beta-testing our Visikol HISTO platform with researchers in the US and EU. The Visikol HISTO platform allows researchers to move beyond the 400-year-old practice of 2D histology and towards conducting what we call “3D histology.” To date, we have had over 300 researchers from around-the-world use this platform and are excited to announce the first publication using Visikol HISTO: Clarification and 3-D visualization of immunolabeled human placenta villi. This paper was authored by Dr. Carolyn Salafia, Dr. George Merz, Valerie Schwenk, Ruchit Shah and Phillip Necaise. The paper focused on applying the Visikol HISTO technology to visualize and characterize the complex vasculature of the human placenta.
Less than 24 hours away from the 2017 SOT conference in Baltimore. Come check us out at booth 2532 to see how tissue clearing can improve your DART or in vitro studies.
Michael will be taking part Friday 3/10 in a panel discuss on biotech startups at NYU School of Medicine: From Science to Startup- A Panel Discussion with 2017 Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 Honorees.
To sign up for the event or to check out the webex see the link below:
At Visikol we are constantly thinking about new ways to image and analyze biological tissues. We have recently begun working with VR to interpret large 3D renderings and are very excited about the possibilities. If you are interested in learning more about applying VR to your 3D renderings reach out to us: email@example.com
Two weeks ago, researchers from The University of Missouri published a paper where Visikol for Plant Biology was used to visualize the Xylem of Arabidopsis plants. Check out the full publication below.
Visikol and Michael were recently highlighted on the Rutgers Today website as the featured story. Check it out here. Thanks Robin Lally for the great story!
Visikol is happy to announce that Dr. Graeme Gardner recently joined the team as a research scientist! He obtained his PhD in chemistry from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he specialized in bioinorganic and materials chemistry. He is passionate about bridging the gaps between compatible disciplines in chemistry and biology that suffer from a lack of intercommunication, and is excited to work on solving problems in tissue clearing. Dr. Gardner will focus on the development of Visikol HISTO for 3D histology and working to improve the characertization of complex and heterogenous tissues.
Michael met Dr. Gardner through their NSF IGERT Fellowships and worked together during their PhD work on the development of sustainable wastewater treatment systems. Dr. Gardner and Michael worked together on optimizing wastewater treatment systems in Argentina (below) and were finalists in the Agricultural Innovation Competition in 2014.
2016 was an absolutely amazing year for Visikol in that we have far exceeded our initial expectations when we launched the company in March and are tracking well with our goals and milestones. I am incredibly proud of the work that our team has done in a very short period of time and I think we are well on our way to significantly disrupting the way that bio-imaging is conducted. Below I just wanted to focus on some of the highlights from the year and discuss our goals for 2017.
Launch of Visikol HISTO
This technology is the embodiment of years of work and was designed to replace traditional 2D histology with an easy-to-use and rapid 3D histological approach. We were very happy to receive positive feedback from our early beta-testers on this technology and have since launched a suite of Visikol HISTO products. We are continually improving these products and, to date, have had over 160 researchers use Visikol HISTO in their research. Check out some examples of Visikol HISTO being used below:
NSF Phase I SBIR Grant
As young researchers with few publications and a short academic track record, we were thrilled to receive a $225,000 Phase I NSF SBIR grant. These grants are highly competitive, and receiving one was a major accomplishment for the team. This grant allowed us to finish the development of our Visikol TOX platform and to pursue the development of the Visikol HISTO technology for micro-tissues. Based upon this success, we have submitted several additional SBIR grants and will look to continue supporting our R&D efforts through SBIR grant funding in 2017.
Forbes 30 Under 30
A fitting cap to this year's accomplishments was being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. I am really proud to have been selected among so many innovators and disruptors from across the country. Each and every person on this list is working to shape their respective industries and to create a lasting impact in the world. This accomplishment would not have been possible without a long list of people who have supported me and the Visikol team. My two-founders; Thomas Villani and Nick Crider have been instrumental to the success of Visikol and together we make a really great team. Over the last year, we have spent countless hours together in a 10 x 10-foot office and the experience has had an incredible impact on me.
In addition to my fellow co-founders, this would not have been possible without the Foundation Venture Capital Group or Rutgers University who have supported us immensely along the way. Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to thank my wife Kassandra for her love and support and putting up with very early mornings and late nights of work. Building a company and creating new technologies is hard work that requires a great team and support from a myriad of people.
One of the most important things for any team is to set goals. I find that committing goals to paper and sharing them with others makes you more accountable for your actions. Therefore, I wanted to share some of our goals for 2017 with all of you:
- Accelerate the commercialization of the Visikol HISTO technology for research applications and get it into the hands of 1,000 researchers
- Integrate the Visikol TOX technology into commercial developmental and reproductive toxicology studies
- Work with clinicians to evaluate high impact clinical applications for Visikol HISTO
- Raise $1,000,000 in SBIR award funding
Meeting these goals in 2017 will allow us to provide researchers with tools to answer complex scientific questions while building a successful commercial organization. Additionally, we will lay the groundwork for applying the Visikol HISTO technology directly to human health where 3D histology could potentially improve the diagnosis of heterogenous and complex diseases like breast cancer or Alzheimer's Disease.
Thank you all for your support of Visikol and best wishes for a happy and productive 2017!
We are very pleased to announce that Visikol CEO and Co-Founder, Michael Johnson has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the Science category. The 2017 list recognizes 30 young business and industry figures in across twenty industries and draws from over 15,000 applications. For the full story click here.