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VIDA Diagnostics staff conduct 3D CT scan of patient at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Remarkable start-up

A company founded by University of Iowa faculty members is turning discoveries from biomedical imaging into tools that might help diagnose or treat lung disease.

VIDA Diagnostics develops software that constructs detailed images of the lungs using hundreds of “slices”—or two-dimensional cross-sections of the chest—captured via computed tomography (CT). In 2007, the company received the Technology Association of Iowa’s Prometheus Award for outstanding startup company of the year.

“Our software creates 3-D images from CT slices, detecting normal structures and characterizing abnormalities exceptionally well,” says Geoffrey McLennan, professor of internal medicine and director of interventional pulmonology. (The photo above shows McLennan and colleagues in the bronchoscopy lab at UI Hospitals and Clinics.)

Partners in VIDA Diagnostics include McLennan; Eric Hoffman, professor of radiology in the Carver College of Medicine, director of the Iowa Comprehensive Lung Imaging Center, and the company's original founder; Joseph Reinhardt, associate professor of biomedical engineering; and Milan Sonka, professor of electrical and computer engineering, both in the College of Engineering. In 2003 they recruited John Garber to join them as VIDA’s CEO.

The VIDA founders developed the image-analysis technologies that form the core of the company’s software, the Pulmonary Workstation Plus, through projects funded largely by National Institutes of Health grants. The University owns the patents on the original technology and licenses it to the company, which is housed at the UI Technology Innovation Center, a business incubator on the Oakdale Campus.

All University-owned patents generated $17.4 million in royalty and license fee income during fiscal year 2007. Through resources like the IOWA Centers for Enterprise, the University has stepped up efforts to help faculty members patent and develop the commercial potential of their discoveries.

Biomedical imaging has emerged as an especially promising area for this sort of economic development, thanks to the University’s reputation for imaging research.

McLennan, for example, serves as director of the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging, a partnership between the colleges of Medicine and Engineering established last fall to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and to translate research findings into clinical practice. Sonka serves as the institute’s co-director.

While universities offer fertile ground for discovery, private industry can push new ideas into wider use.

“To get something into the clinical environment, you don’t just need scientific proof. You need regulatory proof that it’s safe and effective,” McLennan explains. “To receive regulatory approval, it helps to have a company that acts as the interface.”

VIDA Diagnostics
IOWA Centers for Enterprise
Carver College of Medicine
College of Engineering
UI Hospitals and Clinics

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