Interview with Pilhan Kim, Professor at the Graduate School of Nanoscience and Technology/Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST

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As humankind now expects an extended lifespan of 100 years, living well has become more important than living longer. In this sense, the new technology will play a crucial role for the quality of life of human beings.

“Most researchers hope their research and technology will benefit society. With the same goal in mind, I took a new path for starting up a business. I will help fellow researchers to universally use the high-speed laser IVM technology.”

  • Core platform for bio-image technology

The most widely known technologies to obtain bio-images include X-ray, MRI, and CT. They are designed to observe the structure of organs and tissues, instead of examining individual cells separately. Biopsy involves taking out some of the tissues and observing them with a microscope. Although it can separate individual cells, it cannot offer data about living cells within the human body. This means we cannot obtain dymanic information regarding how different cells interact with the surrounding environment and how they are related to physiological functions.

“We often compare this with a soccer game. A soccer game generally stretches into about two hours. In this process, a biopsy only obtains the result of the game; it cannot show how the players moved or which player contributed to the result. However, the high-speed laser IVM is totally different, as it can access every detail of the match. It can examine the interactions of many cells, which cannot be captured by the existing technologies. By turning the data into images in real time, the technology helps us learn how various human diseases are generated inside the human body and how they develop and transform. This means the new technology can offer a new opportunity for research into human diseases and development of effective treatment and medicine. This technology will accelerate the process of developing treatment and medicine and significantly enhance reliability and accuracy.”

Professor Kim predicts that the uses and value of this technology will explosively increase in the coming years. In this respect, he founded IVIM Technology, Inc. as a means to stably distribute the technology and related equipment. Mr. Kim intends to design and distribute the equipment to facilitate its use among researchers and medical professionals.

  • High-tech research equipment being upgraded to state-of-the-art medical devices

This recent technology and equipment is new to the world, but the idea of trying to look inside the living human body is nothing new. However, the existing technology is not sufficient to implement the idea, because the existing optical microscopy was not developed for imaging the human body. To embody the idea with the existing technology, it is necessary for individual users to deploy various element technologies required for bio-imaging into the basic optical microscopy. In particular, the users require a labeling technique and an image processing technique to mark specific cells within the human body. This poses a significant burden to the users due to the high level of difficulty of individual technologies.

On the other hand, the IVM technology addressed the challenges faced by the existing ideas and technologies based on its outstanding technological competitiveness. “What makes IVM unique is that it was custom-built by my team’s independent initiative, and so it was made into a flexible system optimized for bio-imaging.”

Professor Kim is currently developing his third prototype, and this model is scheduled to be released in March 2018. He is trying to embody the model into an all-in-one packaging system. Once the product is successfully released, it would become an entirely new bio-microscopy system.

“IVIM Technology has two medium-term goals. Step one is to develop state-of-the-art research equipment and step two is to use the equipment as a medical device to diagnose diseases. I founded the company when step one reached a mature level based on the R&D efforts made over the past seven years. Step two was initiated three years ago, and I’m hopeful that it will be completed in a few years. This technology is helpful in diagnosing capillary microcirculation and will therefore help respond to emergency situations such as cardiac infarction.

  • Startup KAIST’s support for new challenge

Professor Kim began working with Startup KAIST in early 2016. Although it went smoothly with the inception of his idea and research on the high-speed laser IVM, sufficient for commercialization, it was still too much of a burden for a single researcher to proceed with commercialization. In response, Professor Kim participated in KAIST END RUN Seed Project to obtain support from Startup KAIST.

“I made the first prototype in early 2016 with support from Startup KAIST, and this became the biggest help for my startup. This made me set a direction for business startup. I also obtained support from the institution this year. Seoul National University Bundang Hospital and I together verified the idea as to whether the new technology can be used for diagnosis. Frankly, such support is often a one-off event, but the Seed Project END RUN offers multiple support for different levels of commercialization, providing a foundation for gradual advances.”

  • Dreaming to become a first mover in the biohealth industry

Progress in medical technology has extended human life expectancy significantly. However, simply living longer is not that important; what is more notable is living a healthy, long life. In this regard, development of high-speed laser IVM technology is expected to have a significant influence on humankind’s quality of life. The traditional biomedicine industry has focused on developing simple composite medicine. In the future, however, biomedicine based on new concepts will be actively developed, such as immunity medicine, cell medicine, genetic medicine, and antibody medicine acting compositively at the level of cells, the microscopic elements of the human body.

“My goal is to allow all researchers of human diseases and developers of medicine to use the new technology for the well-being of humanity. I hope biology and basic medicine labs will use this equipment as a ready means to observe intravital cells. Based on this gradual growth, I will endeavor to make the company a global business.”

The emergence of this innovative technology will lead a huge transformation in the biohealth industry. And in that process, IVIM Technology aims to position itself as a first mover that inspires innovation and a spirit of challenge.

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