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To understand and cure the diseases that still plague humanity, medical science needs new tools that gain widespread scientific use by being affordable to all scientists.

Close to 20 years ago this, together with the excitement of working with something entirely new, inspired me and a group of engineers to start developing a technology that would allow cell biologists to non-invasively study cells while being cultured inside the incubator.

Sweden is the home of PHI, cinnamon buns, ABBA and technology innovations, including the three-point seat belt and mobile phones. But also Torbjörn Caspersson’s cytophotometer, which led to the flow cytometer and eventually HoloMonitor®. Rather surprisingly in hindsight, Caspersson’s and other early cytometers in the 1930s where microscopy based. However, without digital image sensors and computer processing, the microscope was doomed to mainly remain a visual tool for cell biologists, while the flow cytometer developed to become its separate quantitative counterpart.

The cell, life’s smallest building block, is fragile. Life is characterized by change. Science is unbiased observation and quantification. Technical developments associated with mobile phones and consumer electronics have made it possible to unite these previously irreconcilable imperatives.

The HoloMonitor time-lapse cytometer is based on the successor of the soon 100-year-old phase-contrast microscope — quantitative phase imaging. Equipped with a digital image sensor, low power diode illumination and sophisticated computer algorithms, HoloMonitor quantifies living cells by measuring how light changes direction when passing through unstained cells. The cells are completely unaffected, as no light energy whatsoever is absorbed or transferred to the cells — no energy exchange, no change.

This allows HoloMonitor to gently image, quantify and over time monitor a large number of cells individually in their incubator environment, without the bias introduced by the harshness and toxicity of flow cytometry and fluorescent microscopy.

After all, Caspersson’s original idea of microscopy-based cytometry wasn’t so bad.

Peter Egelberg
CEO and founder of PHI