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Karmanos Doctors Peter Littrup, M.D., and Neb Duric, Ph.D.,named Innovators of the Year

Peter J. Littrup, M.D., and Neb Duric, Ph.D., of Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University (WSU) School of Medicine, were named the state’s Innovators of the Year during the seventh annual MichBio Expo, held Nov. 3 in Grand Rapids. The award recognizes excellence in Michigan's biosciences community during the past year.

Peter J. Littrup, M.D.

Neb Duric, Ph.D.

Dr. Littrup, director of Interventional Radiology and Radiology Research for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Radiology, WSU School of Medicine; and Dr. Duric, co-leader, Developmental Therapeutics Program for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Oncology, WSU School of Medicine, received the recognition as the co-founders of Delphinus Medical Technologies Inc., and the co-creators of a breast cancer imaging device called SoftVue.

Delphinus is a spinoff company of the Karmanos Cancer Institute, formed in November 2009, to manufacture SoftVue, a three-dimensional, full-breast ultrasound imaging device that effectively differentiates benign from malignant masses in breast cancer cases using a safe, comfortable, and reliable patented technology. This breast cancer screening technology could one day replace mammography. Dr. Littrup and Dr. Duric designed the new screening technology, which eliminates some of the limitations of mammography by using ultrasound imaging. SoftVue exams do not involve breast compression or radiation exposure. Instead, the breast is submerged in warm water and an ultrasound ring surrounds the breast, capturing detailed three-dimensional images through the use of sound waves.

Peter Littrup, M.D., and Neb Duric, Ph.D., of Karmanos Cancer Institute and WSU School of Medicine, with the SoftVue prototype.

Because it doesn’t use radiation, the SoftVue system is able to perform repeated imaging, a necessary tool for the monitoring and assessment of cancer treatment. Through its three-dimensional capabilities, SoftVue can accurately measure breast density, a known risk factor for developing breast cancer. The detailed images generated allow radiologists to make accurate breast cancer diagnoses. The results are similar to those provided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but testing with the SoftVue system takes only minutes and costs much less. This unique technology helps to accurately detect breast cancer in its early stages, even in patients with dense breast tissue sometimes missed by mammography. In addition, because SoftVue uses multi-parametric ultrasound and sophisticated computer algorithms rather than X-rays, its believed that it will reduce the number of false positives that can occur with mammography, thereby reducing unnecessary biopsies.

SoftVue is indicative of the way academic medical research translates from the bench to the bedside, and benefits local economies. Delphinus secured $8 million in venture capital to begin operations. Delphinus -- Latin for dolphin which communicates through underwater sound signals -- began seeking funding in late 2009 to design and build the first 10 machines that will be used in clinical settings around the globe. SoftVue’s lead investor is Arboretum Ventures of Ann Arbor, Mich. Beringea LLC co-led the deal through its InvestMichigan! Growth Capital Fund in partnership with North Coast Technology Investors. Delphinus is located in the Michigan Life Science and Innovation Center in Plymouth Township. Dr. Littrup serves as the company’s chief medical officer and Dr. Duric is chief technical officer.

The venture capital investment has allowed the company to hire employees in highly technical engineering system and software positions. Those ranks are expected to grow to 50 to 100 positions within the next four years. Final assembly and quality assurance testing of the product will be performed at the company’s Michigan facility. Delphinus plans to use dealer sales organizations in the United States, as well as imaging equipment manufacturers outside the U.S. for product distribution. The company has received sales commitments for the SoftVue system from several national and international health institutions that have agreed to be included in the ongoing clinical studies involving the technology, moving this technology closer to FDA approval.

MichBio is the biosciences industry trade association and the official Michigan affiliate of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. It works to promote cooperation between the state’s bioscience businesses, develops business opportunities and works to improve a “science-friendly environment” for attracting and starting new businesses.

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