Some scientific breakthroughs are massive, the scope of their impact sometimes stretching to every corner of the world. Others are small. Some, as is the case with Luminate resident Double Helix Optics, can be both.  That’s not to say Double Helix’s focus and technology is insignificant. Rather, it’s small. Really, really small.

Double Helix CEO Leslie Kimerling, second from left in front, with other Luminate entrants and leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double Helix specializes in 3D, nano-scale imaging, or imaging at an incredibly small level. The company’s Spindle system, for example, produces images with a lateral precision of 20 nanometers, or 20 billionth of a meter. In comparison, a blood cell is about eight micrometers, or eight millionth of a meter. It’s a frame so small with such precision that, as co-founder and CEO Leslie Kimerling explained, biological processes can be directly observed, in three dimensions that have never been seen before.

“Because it’s high precision 3D, it’s more than just imaging,” Kimerling said. “It’s information-capture that allows you to do both image extracting and data analytics.”

Double Helix’s current clientele include research and development scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, and for good reason. Double Helix’s technology allows scientists to directly observe how a drug interacts with the body on an individual cellular level. It’s a process that can lead to a deeper, precise understanding of how things work in the tiniest of realms.

“I think the main thing is that in this era of precision medicine and targeted drug therapy, what our technology does is allow us to see how targets interact inside of cells,” Kimerling said. “This ability to see how cell structures change. Most of what’s used now is mass spectroscopy, which allows you to analyze, (but) it’s more of a volumetric analysis. Or there’s a big area for artificial intelligence, so using better algorithms for better stochastic modeling for chemical interactions.”

Double Helix’s technology is a step which could make these processes nearly a thing of the past. It’s no longer drawing a conclusion from a mass sample, or establishing a pattern. Rather, it’s directly observing what happens at a cellular level.

“What if you could actually see how a drug impacted a target?” Kimerling said. “What if you could actually see how a cell structure changes?”

That’s exactly what a product like the Spindle, an 8-inch-long lens adaptable to most microscope systems, allows you to do. It’s an incredibly complex scientific process. Imagine you’re a surveyor doing a report on the entire city of Rochester on who people will vote for in an upcoming election. You can take into account political factors, historical trends, current events and economic conditions, and most of the time you’ll be able to accurately paint a picture of why and how the region votes a certain way. That’s comparable to mass spectroscopy; it’s analysis of a large sample which draws a mostly accurate conclusion and establishes a trend. But it’s also a process that can miss nuance. You’re not looking at the individual, and your understanding of why exactly they lean a certain way is limited. It’s mostly data and trends, not the specific interaction. Double Helix is comparable to having a conversation with each individual and getting the information directly.

“I think it’s really important to get a sense of the smallness of the things you can see with our technology. Think of a meter as a measure, or a centimeter as a measure; our technology works on a nanometer level,” Kimerling said. “It’s a billionth of a meter. Think about how small that is—it’s not visible to the naked eye. Our technology breaks a 300-year barrier called the diffraction limit of light.”

As postulated by German physicist Ernst Abbe in 1873, the diffraction limit in microscopy was placed at right around 200 nanometers. This means that if two objects are closer together than that, light wavelengths essentially can’t be differentiated. Theoretically, no one should be able to see anything that small. But recent times have been proving that not to be true. In 2014, Stanford University’s W.E. Moerner received the Nobel Prize for developing a super-resolution fluorescent microscopy system that allows clear images to be developed on the microscopic level at or below that 200 nanometer mark.

Double Helix is producing 3D images at a tenth of that scale.

“We see the world in three dimensions—it’s natural to us, but in science we haven’t been able to see things in the third dimension, at least on the smallest scale,” Kimerling said. “What we do is take that technology and send it into the third dimension, we give you high definition and high depth. We do that better than anybody.”

There’s an endless array of applications for what Double Helix does that lands far beyond the world of pharmaceuticals. Medical research, biological research, chemical research, virtually any study that aims to look at the world at its smallest level could benefit from their technology. But as we talk about Luminate, benefits for the scientific world are great, but what of economic benefits for Rochester? Double Helix calls Boulder, Colo., home, but with a developed product that is already seeing adoption, now has a manufacturing partner in Rochester’s RPC Photonics.

That roster, as the company continues to work its way through the incubator, stands a solid chance of growing.

“We’ve been looking for more partners on both the manufacturing and business sides. The (Luminate) program is a well-developed program that provides us with a lot of good learning on everything from financial planning, projection to effective sales and marketing,” Kimerling said. “We’re open to growing; we’re now talking to partners both on the business and the product development and manufacturing sides.”

Spotlight on Luminate

Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate accelerator. The winners of November’s first Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to High Tech Rochester’s web of resources and mentoring. In June, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Leading up to June, the Rochester Business Journal will feature profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.

gfanelli@bridgetowermedia.com/(585) 653-4022

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