By Wileen Wong Kromhout

Aydogan Ozcan, associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has garnered a great deal of media attention and professional recognition in recent years for his work on lensless computational microscopy. Just this month, The Scientist, a magazine focusing on the life sciences, research and technology, declared Ozcan’s microscopy platform the top innovation of 2011, claiming the No. 1 spot in their Top 10 list.

Ozcan has been honored with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the National Science Foundation CAREER award, the National Health Institutes (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award as well as the Office of Naval Research and Army Research Office Young Investigator awards.

Last year, Ozcan was also the winner of the Innovation Challenge organized by the Rockefeller Foundation and mHealth Alliance. In 2009 and 2010, he was selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to receive a Grand Challenges Exploration Award, and named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

His group’s computational microscopy technology, with the help of UCLA Engineering’s Institute for Technology Advancement (ITA), has now led to a spinoff called Holomic LLC. Recently, Holomic officially announced its founding and start of full-scale operations in Los Angeles, after receiving $2.5 million in seed funding from a strategic investor as well as an NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant of $383,000.

“Holomic LLC’s mission is to commercialize technologies created by my research group at UCLA and expand the range and number of microscopy applications to benefit communities in the United States, other industrialized nations, as well as resource-limited countries,” said Ozcan, founder and director of the company. “Holomic would not have reached this stage without the support of the School of Engineering as well as ITA. I am thankful for their support.”

Neven Karlovac, also a founder and chief executive officer of Holomic, with over thirty years of experience in technology and business management with companies ranging from early-stage startups to Global 500 corporations, was a senior technology strategist with ITA when he met Ozcan. The two soon partnered on Ozcan’s activities to help identify and shape promising inventions for commercialization.

“An organization like the ITA is important for talented faculty like Aydogan,” said Karlovac. “One of the priorities of the ITA is to incubate research that shows potential for commercialization. As a senior technology strategist, I focused on innovative ideas for new applications and emerging markets, which could result in startups like Holomic that can be funded by leveraging various resources like SBIR grants, development contracts, debt financing and venture capital.”

According to Les Lackman, deputy director of ITA, the Institute has already helped to spin off two successful companies prior to Holomic. One is WaveConnex, Inc. with Frank Chang, distinguished professor and chair of the electrical engineering department and the other, Easel Biotechnologies with James Liao, professor and vice chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“ITA is a leading organization that helps incubate advanced breakthroughs from our research labs to industry, with the goal of streamlining the creation of products, processes and services that fill the needs of society,” said Engineering Dean Vijay K. Dhir about ITA when it first opened. “This new institute adds an important component to our mission of education, research and service, and it will help UCLA Engineering remain on the forefront of transitioning dynamic, world-changing research.”

Optical microscopy is one of the oldest and most important scientific tools widely used in research and clinical settings in a variety of applications. However professional grade microscopes are bulky and range in price from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and are largely confined to laboratory use.

Ozcan’s telemedicine microscopy platform captures images using a technology termed Lenseless Ultra-wide-field Cell Monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging (LUCAS). With this computational approach, the microscope can be miniaturized to the point where it fits on most cell phones, while remaining inexpensive enough for widespread use in developing countries.

Ozcan’s cell phone microscope is also easy to use and versatile. Samples of blood and saliva can be loaded onto single-use chips that easily slide into the side of the cell phone microscope and can be used to monitor diseases like HIV or malaria and to test water quality in the field after a major disaster like a hurricane or earthquake.

Algorithms developed also by Ozcan’s research group instantly identify and count red and white blood cells and microparticles in large sample volumes, a time consuming process typically done by trained technicians. The image results are then sent by the cell phone to centralized hospitals for analysis by health-care professionals.

Holomic is currently in the development stage and plans to introduce a product line of portable, cell phone or wireless based microscopes for a wide range of applications, including scientific research, point-of-care diagnostics, pathology labs, telemedicine and environmental monitoring. First product releases are planned for late 2012.

More information on Ozcan’s research group can be found here: http://innovate.ee.ucla.edu/. Information on Holomic LLC can be found here: http://holomic.com/.

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of more than 5,000 students. The school’s distinguished faculty are leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cybersecurity. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to nine multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, and the smart grid, all funded by federal and private agencies.