Vixar nabs Phase I SBIR contract to develop tunable VCSEL

The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (NCI; Bethesda, MD) has awarded Vixar (Plymouth, MN) a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to demonstrate the feasibility of the company's wavelength-tunable vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) achieving a tuning range of 35 nm. Working with the company on this effort is the Beckman Laser Institute at the University of California, Irvine.

This project will develop a swept near-infrared (NIR) light source that enables a portable hyperspectral tomographic functional optical imager. While such a device has many applications within endogenous NIR spectroscopy and imaging, or molecular imaging spectroscopy, the company will focus on the application of the light source within an instrument designed for detecting, characterizing, and therapeutic monitoring of breast cancer. The optical source is expected to enable improved image signal to noise, contrast, and imaging depth. 

The long-term goal is to develop a source that combines 5–10 individual chips to form a very compact (0.5 × 0.5 × 0.5 cm) swept source with a range of 200–400 nm, a scanning speed of 10–100 ms, and an output power of 10 mW. This source would be incorporated into a handheld functional diffuse optical spectroscopic imaging (DOSI) device—not requiring exogenous contrast agents—to monitor and predict chemotherapy response in the treatment of breast cancer. A DOSI instrument developed at UC Irvine is currently undergoing validation on neoadjuvant patients in a multi-center clinical trial supported by the NIH. The swept NIR source would improve the performance and commercialization potential of a handheld DOSI instrument by allowing 3D subsurface imaging, improving the signal-to-noise ratio of the image by delivering a much higher photon intensity to the detector, and allowing the miniaturization of the device so that it is compatible with routine clinical use.

The Phase I project will demonstrate a swept optical source based upon an integrated VCSEL with microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. The output optical wavelength of the device will be centered at 850 nm, and will demonstrate an output power of 1 mW and a tuning range of 35 nm with a tuning rate of 10 msec. During the Phase I project, this initial prototype device will be inserted into a DOSI handheld probe and will be used to measure the optical properties in a breast tissue simulating phantom. The phase II project will optimize the device performance, and extend it to the full range of wavelengths (multiple VCSEL-MEMs die that together span the entire desired wavelength range) and will be implemented in a handheld imager to demonstrate full imaging functionality.

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