Former Infrasonics CEO Breathing New Life Into Cancer Detection Technology

3/18/09Follow @bvbigelow

Sometimes entrepreneurship isn’t the provenance of the young and the quick— and sometimes innovation just won’t go gentle into the night.

Jim Hitchin, for example, is a 66-year-old San Diego entrepreneur who is working to revive biomedical technology acquired in 2004 from the bankruptcy of a Minneapolis, MN, medical device company. Hitchin previously served on the board of Southern California’s Tech Coast Angels, and occasionally worked on projects for venture capital firms. He sold his last company, an infant ventilator maker called Infrasonics, in 1996 for about $66 million.

Now he’s trying to resuscitate SpectraScience (OTCBB: SCIE), a recast medical device startup housed in a faded technology park in San Diego’s famed Sorrento Valley. “I just really like the pioneering part of it,” Hitchin told me during a tour of the 10-employee company. Hitchin estimates SpectraScience spent $55 million in its previous incarnation to develop “optical biopsy” technology that combines a low-power, fiber-optic blue laser with computerized spectroscopy.

Hitchin says he was part of a group that spent about $50,000 to acquire the technology in 2004 out of SpectraScience’s bankruptcy. After moving the company’s equipment from a Minnesota warehouse to San Diego, he’s spent the past five years updating SpectraScience’s technology and rebuilding the business.

The concept underlying the company’s medical device, known as WavSTAT, is fairly simple. The fiber optic laser is incorporated within an endoscope, the flexible medical instrument used to examine the colon and other internal organs. It is used to momentarily illuminate a small area on a polyp or other suspect tissue. The surface layer cells first absorb the laser light and then glow—and that fluorescence can be analyzed to determine if the cells are abnormal, and potentially pre-cancerous.

“Light is just energy,” Hitchin says. “If you pump it in, (the tissue) will give some energy back.” The important thing, he notes, is that healthy cells give off energy in way that looks different than the energy emitted by abnormal cells. The Food and Drug Administration approved … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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