Just as we need air to live, our bodies need oxygen for tissue health and healing

In the past, to make sure oxygenated blood is reaching wound areas, health professionals have had to rely on visual inspections or probes requiring skin contact.

Now, Kent Imaging, a Calgary-based medical device company, has developed a non-invasive digital imaging system that measures tissue oxygenation in wounds with just a click of a camera.

"It takes pictures at different wave lengths, using near infrared light (NIR) and generates, in an instant, a compiled image of blood oxygen levels in tissue. Plus, you don't need to touch the patient," says Don Chapman, Kent Imaging founder and executive chairman.

Client Journey: Kent Imaging starts with an innovative idea

Innovation doesn't happen overnight. Kent Imaging's story goes back to 2006 - about the time Chapman had just received a call from the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada laboratory in Winnipeg.

"The senior director there said, 'Don, would you come down and take a look at some of the projects our scientists are working on?' One of those innovations happened to be an exciting technology to diagnose wounds using different light waves," Chapman remembers.

Seeing the potential, Chapman quickly licensed the technology concept from the NRC and started up Kent Imaging in 2006, with himself and three others.  At first, the team researched the science and looked at equipment applications.  Then, in 2012, they got an important break with a new technology development.

"The technology that was available at the time changed quite dramatically with the invention of new high-speed sensor chips. With these chips, we could rapidly obtain the images we needed for our camera," Chapman says.

By incorporating the sensors, Chapman and his team realized it was possible to create a mobile hand-held camera that could take multiple clear medical images at different wave lengths in just microseconds. Not only that, by running data through an algorithm, the images could be easily interpreted to improve understanding of the wound tissue state.

To carry their innovation further, Chapman reached out to funders like Alberta Innovates. With the help of technology developer advisors, Chapman was able to obtain coaching and an Alberta Innovates investment in 2014. Working together with NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) advice and funding, Kent Imaging had what it needed to forge ahead with a camera prototype.

"The funding gave the needed support to research, develop and build the camera," Chapman says.

Then, with the help of another Alberta Innovates grant in 2016, Chapman hired Pierre Lemire, an experienced executive in the medical imaging field, as company CEO.  With Lemire on board, Chapman and his team intensified the effort to be market-ready. They set out a strategy that focused on markets like wound care and reconstructive surgery.

With these steps, Kent Imaging was well on its way.

Information from Kent Imaging's SnapshotNIR device allows doctors or surgeons to rapidly survey the injured tissue, so they can check on the healing process and determine proactively whether changes to treatments are needed to ensure successful patient outcomes.

Already the device has recently been hailed by industry observers like MedTech Outlook, a U.S. magazine that covers the latest health-care technology developments, as the "next wave of medical imaging technology."

Certainly, this breakthrough didn't happen overnight. It took time, business savvy (Chapman is a seasoned entrepreneur who has founded or led 10 technology companies) and help from research and innovation funding agencies like Alberta Innovates.

Starting eight years ago, Alberta Innovates technology development advisors such as Michael Kerr provided coaching and helped Chapman secure grants to research, develop and build the company's specialized imaging system.

Over the next few years, the company quickly evolved its technology. As the technology matured, Kent Imaging secured market clearance approvals from Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the same time, early sales of the SnapshotNIR device in Canada and the U.S. were promising.

But to get to the next step of commercial adoption, the company needed help - this time in the form of additional clinical evidence to fully launch a new, enhanced version of SnapshotNIR.

Alberta Innovates again pitched in. Kerr and Graham Anderson, a senior business partner with the agency's health innovation team worked together two years ago to identify new funding.

AICE market access program supports real-world trials

In September 2020, Kent Imaging secured more than $250,000 from Alberta Innovates' AICE (Accelerating Innovations into CarE) Market Access Program.

The company is now partnering with SerenaGroup Research Foundation, a global wound care group, to carry out real-world trials of its technology.

"Health innovators often face challenges in generating evidence needed for introducing new technologies. We could see that funding further clinical trials could help to accelerate Kent's market access," Anderson says.

Since then, the company's success has continued to build momentum, as it attracts major companies and investors.

In December 2020, Kent Imaging successfully raised US$15 million in financing from TVM Capital Life Science, a global life science venture capital firm.

In January this year, Kent announced a strategic partnership with Tissue Analytics, a U.S.-based Net Health company providing software solutions for the wound care industry.

Meanwhile, the staff count is up to 20 and growing. The company is continuing to develop its digital imaging products and there are plans to open an office in the U.S. and launch SnapshotNIR in Europe.

While his company is just getting started in bringing its technology to the world, Chapman credits Alberta Innovates for playing a key supporting role in its success so far.

"Alberta Innovates' job is to invest in new technology, and they do it really well. They're great to work with. Their help has been instrumental for Kent throughout our story."