How UW-Madison's Collaborative Innovation Culture Helped OnLume Blend Science With Business.
We’re Proud of
Our Academic Roots
The genesis of OnLume’s revolutionary fluorescence-guided surgery technology stemmed from the desire to bring fluorescence imaging out of the dark, literally. Only in that way, in the ambient light of the operating room (OR), could FGS reach its full life-saving potential, reasoned OnLume co-founder Adam Uselmann, PhD.
Uselmann is OnLume’s Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder. He and his fellow founders knew that if they could make fluorescence-guided surgery work in real-time – in the bright light of an OR – surgical precision and patient outcomes would improve, thereby helping reduce morbidity and costs.
“We discovered that by synchronizing detection with lighting, you’d be able to have both the room lit and detect dim signals,” said Mr. Uselmann. “We started looking at different applications of this technology and then realized surgery was an optimal area to benefit from fluorescence imaging in a well-lit environment.”
“Without OnLume’s unique, patented technology, surgeons performing fluorescence-guided surgery must turn off OR lights or significantly degrade image quality and sensitivity to see the critical anatomy or disease illuminated by fluorescent agents,” said Uselmann. “This is burdensome on surgeons’ eyes as they must adjust and readjust to variable lighting conditions. And, it’s disruptive to workflow and lengthens procedures.”
Uselmann is a medical physicist, engineer and entrepreneur with over ten years of experience in academia and the medical science industry. Uselmann’s expertise – and the inspiration for OnLume – – were nurtured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in particular, at the world-renowned Morgridge Institute for Research in the Medical Engineering Lab, led by Thomas “Rock” Mackie, PhD.
Mackie is Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of OnLume and as played an instrumental role in the foundation and development of the company. He is Emeritus Director of Medical Engineering of Morgridge Institute and previously served as Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Wisconsin Hospital. His business credits are on par with his innovations in medical physics; he is known as a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Tomotherapy, a stunningly successful clinical radiation therapy company whose IPO broke at $1 billion, and was also headquartered in Madison prior to acquisition.
“OnLume is definitely a product of the encouraging environment that exists here at the UW – Madison,” said Mackie. “One of the most unique aspects of this truly extraordinary place is how it supports diversity of discovery. When I was leading Medical Engineering and the Fab Lab at the Morgridge Institute with Kevin Eliceiri, we were given carte blanche to be creative and collaborative. That’s the way the University works in the broader sense, as well. The UW has more than 100 departments and about 250 institutes or centers – all encouraged to work together. The OnLume team, which I am very proud to have helped assemble and be a member of, is a natural outgrowth of the University figuring out how to accelerate and amplify innovation.”
In addition to OnLume and Tomotherapy, among Mackie’s other entrepreneurial accomplishments stemming from his own UW academic collaborations were helping launching Asto CT, a developer of rugged, standing CT devices for use in the equine veterinary industry and Linectra, a high-throughput, high-resolution metal 3D printer.
“It’s true that I invest in companies that grow out of the innovation ecosystem that exists here,” Mackie continued. “That’s me expressing confidence in the talented, deeply committed people whose educations we nourish at UW-Madison – people like Adam Uselmann.”
Uselmann himself is a testament to and a product of that innovation ecosystem.
“I’m very fortunate to have chosen the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” said Uselmann. “This campus is a breeding ground for the inspired use of technology in medical innovation and Rock Mackie highly influential here. We could not have achieved what we have to date without him, and I fully expect him to have a steady, guiding hand in all the innovation to come.”
Other co-founders who have played hands-on roles developing OnLume’s technology include:
- Andreas Velten, PhD, Assistant Professor in the UW-Madison Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Biostatistics & Medical Informatics, has extensive experience in optics and software design. He was one of the “Top 35 Under 35” innovators in MIT’s Technology Review and received the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award in 2012.
- Kevin Eliceiri, PhD, is Director of the Morgridge Institute’s dynamic Fab Lab, a hotbed of innovation at the UW-Madison. He is an internationally known expert in advanced light microscopy and leads multi-scale imaging efforts in UW’s departments of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering.
- Benjamin Titz, PhD, a research medical physicist and biomedical engineer with expertise in translational research of oncological molecular imaging and in vivo optical imaging.
OnLume’s team has grown to include experts in medical device development, various engineering disciplines, and clinical research, including Christie Lin, PhD (Director of Research) and Daniel Seemuth, PhD (Director of Systems Engineering). The team has brought its skills and passion to bear alongside Uselmann and other co-founders in tackling the challenges of early stage medical technology development since inception in 2015.
Daniel Seemuth seconds the notion about the challenges faced by the young team, and notes he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I joined Adam on my birthday in 2016 when my desk was a piece of cardboard. I have never looked back,” said Seemuth. “I would say one of the most remarkable things about this company, and this has been true from day one, is that we have fun. Yes; we believe we’re changing the world – but, we love working together. We love overcoming very, very difficult challenges. We love welcoming new collaborators to our process and new members to our team. This is a field in its infancy and I love it.”
“Basically, we’re all nerds,” said Christie Lin. “We were born to solve multifaceted problems by designing clever solutions, so it makes sense we all collaborate as well as we do. But, I think it’s deeper than that. There is something in the water at OnLume that has made this place a home for people like us. Our bond has strengthened our mission to apply our knowledge and ideas to make people’s lives better. We have fun while we work, which keeps us on an even keel and energized. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life right now.”
Lin has no shortage of confidence. When asked, what will success look like, her answer was the definition of optimism.
“I think we’re already successful,” she said. “We have all been dedicated to the mission to create robust, ergonomic technology. That’s already proven. OnLume recently delivered a bench top imaging system to help scientists studying wound healing at UW-Madison. They believe the ability to target particular types of tissues with fluorescent imaging is going to be instrumental in helping them better understand the process of healing at the most fundamental level. That proves the efficacy of our technology – as well as the fact it has reach beyond surgery.”
“But, what keeps me up at night,” she continued, “is I want the OnLume Imaging System to be used in multiple, additional surgical specialties including nerve mapping and cancer surgeries – as soon as possible. My own family has experience with the uncertainties in and morbidities resulting from cancer surgery due to the limits of the standard of care. It’s hard not to be anxious when you know the tools we’ve had a hand in developing can be used to resolve these problems.”
The ties that bind the OnLume team, those University of Wisconsin-Madison roots that began in Uselmann’s graduate work and resulted in proof-of-concept development at the Morgridge Fab Lab as well as patent filings through The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), continue to blossom and bear fruit today.
“The field of fluorescence guided surgery is in its early growth stages but is poised for massive growth in the years ahead, and OnLume has created enabling technology to advance its performance and utility,” added Uselmann. “What has been envisioned for FGS for many years can now become more widely used to address an important market need.”
“The OnLume science team is an incredibly talented, inspired group”, said James A. Bowman, OnLume’s CEO. “In my experience leading medical device companies, success stems from the confluence of those two qualities. The innovations this team has developed is inspiring and fundamentally important – helping to improve patient outcomes, reduce complications and reduce healthcare costs.”