This innovation enables 3D images of living organisms to be obtained with greater speed and precision. In broad terms, helical optical projection tomography consists in rotating a sample while moving it vertically in order to then obtain a three-dimensional image of it, explain its creators. 4DNature, a company that is a spin-off of the university and which is supported by UC3M's Vivero de Empresas (Business Incubator) in the Parque Científico (Science Park), designs, develops and sets up advanced imaging equipment, adapted to the client's needs; the equipment has a multitude of applications in the field of biomedicine and in basic research.
"With our design and the software we are developing, we can create equipment that is not available commercially and that has the advantage of evolving at the same time as the project it is being used for progresses," explains Jorge Ripoll, a partner in 4D-Nature and professor in UC3M's Bioengineering Department. In fact, in addition to other technologies, such as live quantitative imaging and three-dimensional microscopy, this new technology of tomography that they have developed, and which appears in a recently published article in the journal Optics Express, can be integrated into the machines that they specially produce for their clients.
This type of technology is essential in the development of new medicines and sensors, as well as for carrying out other types of biomedical research applicable to clinical diagnostic imaging, explain the researchers. One of the keys to the successful use of these technologies is that the programs that control them be intuitive and user-friendly, that is, that there is no need for previous knowledge of or training in advanced imaging techniques. "It has taken around eight years to develop, fine tune and validate this software and get it to where it is now," states Ripoll, for whom one of the keys here is technical support: "Software that is problem-free and easy to use is closer to success."
For almost ten years, the researchers and promoters at 4DNature, among whom are scientists such as Alicia Arranz and César Nombela Arrieta, have been developing prototypes that are similar to the current systems, having installed this type of equipment in various countries, such as Germany, Spain, Greece, Israel and Switzerland. "This has allowed us to develop parallel 'user-friendly' software to control those systems, which we could then test and optimize until we reached the point we are at now," says Professor Ripoll, who has been awarded a European Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (a research fellowship) to develop this type of advanced imaging equipment.
UC3M's Vivero de Empresas del Parque Científico (Business Incubator of the Science Park) has supported the creation of this company, which it accompanied in its first steps following its successful participation in the 6th Concurso de Ideas UC3M (UC3M Ideas Competition); it has prepared its presentation for investment forums and sector fairs, facilitated its access to public subsidies and fomented meeting with experts. "Since we are scientists, being here has offered us fundamental training for starting up a company, guided us through certain difficult choices, through the legal framework and put us in contact with highly qualified professionals," comments Ripoll. "UC3M's Parque Científico and la Oficina de Transferencia de Resultados de Investigación (Science Park and Office of Research Results Transfer)," he adds "are essential tools for knowledge transfer and, in our experience, I think they should receive the maximum support so that they can become an integral part of university life at every level," he concludes.