Meet Professor Brian Pogue and Quel Imagining
Dartmouth Professor Shines Light On Medical Innovation
Each year, 14 million people receive radiation treatment, usually for cancer. While radiation can be lifesaving, it’s also dangerous and needs to be controlled in an exacting way. Radiologists carefully position their patients and calibrate machines, but they can’t actually see which tissue is being hit by radiation.
That is, until Dartmouth professor Brian W. Pogue developed a solution: a device that allows radiologists to watch radiation being delivered in both real time and on saved files, in order to increase precision in delivering radiation to patients.
“Our belief is that this will reduce errors,” said Pogue, who is the MacLean Professor of Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering and a professor of surgery at Geisel School of Medicine. “Errors do happen. The more that the therapy team can see what they’re doing, the better they are able to catch mistakes.”
Effectively delivering radiation requires patients being positioned within millimeters of the target, day after day through the duration of their treatment. Some patients, including the elderly or people with dementia, find this difficult. Pogue’s technology can help radiologists realize immediately if there is an issue with patient positioning. This could potentially be life saving and make the radiation delivery as precise as possible.
In 2014, Pogue launched DoseOptics, a company based on the technology. He is the president, while co-founder William Ware, Jr., Th’94, is the CEO. The company has secured more than $6 million in funding, including from the National Institutes for Health, and the device should have approval from the Food and Drug Administration by early 2020.
Nearly the entire team at DoseOptics is comprised of people from the Dartmouth community. The company is headquartered in the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center in Lebanon. Being able to share resources and space with other startups has allowed Pogue and the DoseOptics team to streamline their resources in the capital-intensive biotech startup environment.
“Without having the pool of people at Thayer and the Dartmouth community, we simply wouldn’t have a company up here,” Pogue said. “If we were not affiliated with Dartmouth we really would have been lost in the woods compared to where we are now.”
With DoseOptics at the cusp of entering the marketplace, Pogue is working on another spinoff company, Quel Imagining, LLC. For that endeavor Pogue is working with two students, Ethan LaRochelle, a PhD candidate, and Alberto Ruiz, a PhD Innovation Fellow, to develop technology to improve fluorescence imaging. One product would help measure the performance metrics of existing surgical imaging systems that guide cancer surgery, while another would provide a low-cost fluorescence imaging based on smart phone cameras. Both would improve patient outcomes in surgical treatment, while reducing costs.
“We will help shape the field of surgical guidance by making it safer and informing providers which are the best tools to use,” Pogue explained.
At the same time, their phone-based technology could make florescence technology more widely available, dropping the price of the technology by tens of thousands of dollars.
“We aim to bring the cost of this high-tech approach down, so the average physician can use it, both here in rural clinics of New England as well as clinics in low resource countries,” Pogue explained.
For example, fluorescence imaging technology is too expensive for many dermatologists, even though that’s a medical specialty where the technology is hugely beneficial. Because of that, Quel Imaging is targeting the dermatology market first with the low cost phone-based technology. The company recently received a $20,000 grant from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and is in the process of securing funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Bringing a biotech innovation to market is no small feat, Pogue has learned over his five years as an entrepreneur.
“You need to make sure there is a viable business strategy to go forward with,” he said. “Inventions out of engineering schools often are a technology searching for the right business model, so it is critical to bring in smart business consulting expertise.”
Strategically using consultants can also be a way for startups to target their resources. For example, DoseOptics has used consultants to help them have the best chance at FDA approval.
During the process, Pogue has realized that sometimes, he is not the best man for the job.
“It’s been a good learning experience to carefully observe what I’m good at, and accept what I’m not good at,” Pogue said. “I strategically look for people who compliment what I can do.”
Working with two students at Quel Imaging is especially fulfilling. The doctoral program at Thayer is designed to give students the skills and deep experiences that they’ll need to start a company. Founding this company is the perfect realization of that, Pogue said.
After twenty-three years at Dartmouth, Pogue is proud to be part of an ever-expanding force of biotech device innovation at the college.
“The ecosystem here at Dartmouth around medical devices has been growing and growing,” he said. “That’s hard to create, so it’s nice to see it really becoming its own larger ecosystem, built off the backbone of support and people from the Thayer School of Engineering and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, together with Surgery and Radiation Oncology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.”