Illinois Entrepreneurs: Catching up with Diagnostic Photonics

11/20/2015 Ashley Hipsher

Diagnostic Photonics, a startup making microscopes small enough to examine tissue at a cellular level, is just another example of the great things happening at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. But, if you talk to Dr. Scott Carney, Cofounder & Chief Scientific Officer, entrepreneurship was not always his plan.

It all started about 10 years ago, when Carney, a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was taking the data that comes out of microscopes and turning them into 3D images. He was approached by a student who wanted to use the data Carney was working on to solve bigger problems.

One of those problems being the lack of technology that could cut down long processes individuals go through when having a lumpectomy, or the surgical removal of a portion of the breast during the treatment of breast cancer. The microscope allows the pathologist to do on-the-spot imaging of the tissue. This cuts down on the number of procedures a cancer patient would have to endure—benefitting the patient not only physically, but also psychologically and financially.

When approached, shortly there after, by the Office of Technology Management at the university about doing something more with his portfolio of technology patents Carney was hesitant in entrepreneurship.

“There is a reason I am in academia,” says Carney. “But after having a long conversation with Andy Singer (Director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center) he convinced me, I should be interested in entrepreneurship.”

It was in 2008, during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, that Carney, along with Steve Boppart and Kathryn Hyer founded Diagnostic Photonics.

“It was great really,” says Carney. “It gave us this sort of serendipitous time to think about the market, the kind of product we wanted to develop and find the key to our success, a phenomenal CEO in that of Andrew Cittadine.”

Fast forward to today and Diagnostic Photonics has completed a pilot trial, is embarking on a pivotal trial (that will bring patients from around the world), received registered CE Marking in Europe and initial clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With nearly 10 employees they have plans to make an impact in operating rooms throughout the world.

Although Carney would really like a beach house in southern France, he is excited for what the future holds for Diagnostic Photonics.

“We have all of the regulatory clearances to enter the European marketplace,” says the professor. “In the next five years I would like our instrument to be in every OR in the country.”

Carney credits the university for pushing him to be more than just an academic.

“We wouldn’t have started the company without the technology that was created at the university,” says Carney. “That, with the encouragement from university faculty made this all possible.”