“The innovation made by Careglance allows for a much faster surface analysis speed as well as considerably reducing the size of the OCT device.”
LIFTT is participating with a EUR 250,000 investment in Care Glance, a deep tech start-up operating in the field of micro-optical diagnostics, which has developed and patented a ‘deep tech’ product with a wide range of applications, and which represents a clear upgrade over current OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) technology. OCT is a type of laser interferometric measurement that is having a disruptive impact in the medical and industrial fields.
Project Manager Pierluigi Freni explains the potential of the new entry in the LIFTT portfolio.[uncode_author_profile user_id=”11″ avatar_size=”150″ uncode_shortcode_id=”960957″]“Care Glance is a deeptech startup born in 2019 in Milan,” he explains, “that operates in the world of micro-optics and photonics, which studies how to control the propagation of individual photons that make up light. Its focus is on the market for coherent optical tomography (OCT), a technology characterised both by the element of transversality in its field of application and by a component that is clearly disruptive to current standards. Improved products have recently been launched on the market, such as the next-generation OCT that provides HD imaging details and a wider field of view. Careglance is part of this growth trend.
Its focus is on the market for coherent optical tomography (OCT), a technology characterised both by the element of transversality in its field of application and by a component that is clearly disruptive to current standards.
What products are you working on?
“Careglance’s solutions have the ambition to revolutionise the market for coherent optical tomography systems. The company is completing the development of a patented ultra-fast and compact ‘Swept Source’ laser technology as a first step towards a compact, reliable and real-time OCT optics. This product will greatly improve diagnostics and enable a new use of OCT in surgery and dynamic sensors required by the evolution of Industry 4.0.”
In concrete terms, what are the benefits?
“OCT systems analyse the surface layers of a tissue or object or more generally of a material. Typically, OCT is now widely used in ophthalmology. In addition to diagnosis for ophthalmology, it can also be used in other areas, and this is thanks to the innovation brought by Careglance, which allows for a much faster surface analysis speed as well as considerably reducing the size of the OCT device, which is wholly much smaller than traditional devices. Whereas until now these instruments were the size of an office printer, we are now dealing with a very small, portable and manageable device. This means that you can transport it very easily, for example, from one laboratory to another. “OCT systems analyse the surface layers of a tissue or object or more generally of a material.
How is the work team composed?
“The team has strong industrial expertise; CEO Maria Chiara Ubaldi comes from an extensive background in photonics and has worked at the CIFE Foundation (International Centre of Photonics for Energy). Executive Chairman Eugenio Iannone successively has several decades of experience in photonics at Pirelli and Cisco Systems. Both startup founders, therefore, come from an industrial background in the world of photonics, and it is this background that has enabled them to build and develop a value proposition based on actual market demands. They acted on real needs in the OCT world.”
What is the added value of their insight?
“It succeeds in operating a very complex system within a micro-optics structure. thanks to microscopic optical elements, the technology is able to generate a laser source that has lower costs than current laser sources for this application, with wavelength modulation, and in addition, as mentioned before, reducing the overall size of the machine.”
The start-up can count on a qualified pool of investors and high-level contacts…
“Yes, and it is important to point out that among these investors is Revenio, a company that distributes and markets ophthalmic equipment and is therefore both an industrial and commercial partner and is already currently in CAP table. Careglance has a commercial agreement with them for the sale and distribution of what will be Careglance‘s products. In the ophthalmology sector, they are therefore starting with a strong partnership already in house, and there is also an ongoing dialogue with giants such as Zeiss and Leica for machine diagnosis. The team has moved to conduct POC trials in very different application areas: the technique, in fact, thanks to its speed and small size, can be applied in other fields, especially industrial ones. In this regard, an experiment is already underway in the field of food production to verify whether or not a producer’s apples that pass through mechanised processing lines arrive at the packaging stage ripe or not. Another interesting application that is currently being explored relates to the quality control of inline welding. During the welding process, thanks to the Careglance device, it is in fact possible to check the quality of the weld ‘live’: a non-invasive visual inspection method because it uses a laser source that is also very fast and opens up a very wide range of industrial applications in the future. “
“LIFTT is participating in the investment round with a EUR 250,000 contribution to a pre-money of EUR 2.67 million. This is a POC investment that brings us to complete the development and validation of the technology in the ophthalmology field, while the applications of the technology in the industrial field are already covered by POCs paid for by customers and will be carried out in parallel. First sales are expected in 2023. LIFTT came into contact with the company through Giorgio Grasso, a great photonics expert who headed Pirelli’s photonics laboratory, Pirelli Photonics, already on the company’s cap table and also one of the founders of Subphoton, another investment in LIFTT’s photonics pipeline that we will be looking at shortly.”
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a type of laser interferometric measurement, a disruptive technology with a vast field of application, from medical to industrial: such as Printed Circuit Board (PCB) inspection, additive manufacturing, laser welding and 3D metrology.
There are several advantages of OCT methodology, including the non-destructive approach, obtaining high-resolution images, not being sensitive to factors such as external illumination and surface characteristics (unlike photographic approaches), and the possibility of taking cross-sectional images.
OCT is a technique for obtaining sub-surface images of translucent or opaque materials with a resolution equivalent to a low-power microscope. It acts similarly to a common ultrasound examination with ultrasound, but with significant advantages over the latter as it acquires high-speed images at 100,000 scans per second and provides images of tissue morphology at a much higher resolution than technologies such as MRI or ultrasound.
For medical applications, the main advantages of OCT are:
- Sub-surface live images with near-microscopic resolution
- Direct and instantaneous imaging of tissue morphology
- No sample or subject preparation, no contact
- No ionising radiation
Technologically, OCT methodology provides higher resolution because it is based on light from an optical beam directed at the tissue. It is known that most light is not reflected but, rather, scattered out at large angles. In conventional imaging, light contributes to the background that obscures an image. A problem that is not present in OCT, thanks to a technique called interferometry that allows the optical path length of received photons to be recorded, allowing most of them to be rejected several times before detection. Therefore, OCT can return very sharp 3D images.Reference MarketsHistorically, the cost of OCT equipment has been the main reason limiting its use. Developments in personal health care and diagnostic analysis, as well as the ability to identify health problems at an early stage, are driving the optical coherence tomography market. Furthermore, an increasing focus on non-destructive testing in the manufacturing industry could drive the adoption of OCT with a view to greater automation and standardisation in a short period of time. The global OCT market is roughly estimated at $1.2 billion today and is expected to grow at a rate of 9.8% over the next decade.
In the field of healthcare, the WHO has proposed a global action plan for universal eye health since 2015. According to a 2019 WHO report, approximately 2.2 billion people worldwide have eye disorders and the increasing prevalence of cases of visual impairment (eye diseases and an ageing population coupled with a rapidly increasing diabetic population) are likewise all factors driving the demand for ophthalmic diagnostic equipment in which OCT is the first natural outlet.
The first target market for OCT is the analysis of retinal structures by means of high-resolution tomographic sections of the retina, an absolutely non-invasive technique with absolutely superior image quality to those currently predominant.
Currently, during the analysis, the patient is asked to stand still and motionless for several seconds with the risk of having to repeat the procedure several times as the procedure may return a blurred, 2D imaging quality.
In the diagnostic field, the Careglance laser will allow the OCT test to be virtually insensitive to the patient’s movements, while avoiding the frequent repetition of the test induced by even involuntary movement.
In non-invasive eye and blood vessel surgery, the Careglance laser will enable surgeons to work with sharp, three-dimensional images.
In the industrial field, on the other hand, the Careglance laser will enable the emergence of a new generation of sensors based on 3D imaging that can perform in-process monitoring with possible back-action on the process itself. Indeed, an increasing focus on non-destructive testing in the manufacturing industry could drive the adoption of OCT with a view to greater automation and standardisation in a short period of time.The MissionThe Careglance technology will allow a real cost reduction compared to the current situation, where the use of the ‘swept source’ is worth around 30% of the cost of the entire equipment. Careglance’s goal is to reduce the industrial cost of the laser by half. Since its first tests, the Careglance laser has already proven to be highly reliable, thanks to its innovative design and the absence of miniaturised moving parts that are prone to degradation over time, effectively minimising the compromise in overall OCT performance.
CareGlance’s challenge is also to propose solutions with a cost significantly lower than the standard on the market in order to broaden their adoption. This will be possible primarily because Careglance will manufacture (at least prior to mass production) and Internally assemble its lasers with its own patented technology.
The exploitation of laser technology and integrated optics will make it possible to bring to market a compact and portable OCT module, containing all optical and electronic OCT-related hardware in the space of a 15 x 8 x 5 cm package.
This product is particularly in demand in hospital wards and for home patient care in healthcare applications, while it would be a major breakthrough in the exploitation of OCT technology for monitoring processes in the field, e.g. welding of gas pipes.