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Nanotech Imaging Start-Up Raises $3M in Seed Financing

Tracking with magnetic nanoparticles

Tracking injected mesenchymal stem cells in lab mouse with magnetic nanoparticles (Magnetic Insight Inc.)

18 July 2016. A spin-off enterprise from University of California in Berkeley, developing a medical imaging technology with magnetic nanoparticles, is raising $3 million in start-up funding. Magnetic Insight Inc. in Alameda, California says the new financing supplements the $12 million it already raised before start-up.

The company licenses a technology developed in the UC-Berkeley lab of engineering professor Steven Conolly that detects magnetic tracers made with nanoscale particles — 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter — sent into tissue to diagnose medical conditions. Conolly is a co-founder of Magnetic Insight and a scientific advisor, with company CEO Anna Christensen and chief technologist Patrick Goodwill. The company began initially at StartX, an accelerator for start-up enterprises related to Stanford University; both Conolly and Goodwill got graduate degrees at Stanford.

Magnetic Insight’s technology sends non-radioactive and non-toxic iron oxide nanoparticle tracers into tissue, where they are detected by a magnetic field. Superparamagnetic iron oxide or SPIO particles, as small as 60 nanometers, are already used as contrast agents for MRI scans. Because iron oxide in the particles is not found in the body, the particles can be traced with a high degree of accuracy.

The magnetic field can also direct the movement of nanoparticles, with a location and direction determined by a free field point. When the magnetic direction of the nanoparticle changes, it sends a signal detected by a receiver. Those signals can then be aggregated and displayed as a quantitative image. Conolly with colleagues at Berkeley and Magnetic Insight demonstrated the technology tracking stem cells in lab mice in a paper published in January 2016.

The new financing is seed-round funds led by Sand Hill Angels, a group of Silicon Valley investors supporting innovative start-ups in Internet, information technology, clean tech, consumer, and life sciences. The StartX Fund and other angel investors participated in the financing. Magnetic Insight says it already raised some $12 million in research funding, prior to company start-up, as well as Small Business Innovation Research grants from NIH.

The new funding is expected to support development of Momentum, the company’s lead product. Momentum is a magnetic nanoparticle imaging system designed for preclinical applications, including cell tracking, monitoring vascular functions, cancer, and immunology research. The company also markets Vivotrax, magnetic particle imaging tracers for research, not clinical use.

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