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Northwestern University

Vadim Backman, Preora Diagnostics

Vadim BackmanAs a child, Vadim Backman wanted to become a physician to help people. Now he is a biomedical engineer on the cusp of commercializing a technology that could reduce cancer deaths by 90 percent.

Using powerful optical technology called partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy, Backman and his team are able to examine cells at the nanoscale and see changes otherwise undetectable using standard microscopy techniques.

“The advantage of nanocytology -- and why we are so excited about it -- is we don’t need to wait for a tumor to develop to detect cancer,” Backman said.

The PWS-based test makes use of the “field effect,” a biological phenomenon in which cells located some distance from the malignant or pre-malignant tumor undergo molecular and other changes. 

In 2011, Backman and his team founded Preora Diagnostics. The PWS technology and the company were born as a result of ongoing research at Backman’s Biophotonics Laboratory at Northwestern. 

The nascent medical device company is dedicated to designing highly accurate, low-cost, non-invasive testing that will dramatically help with the early detection of several types of cancers.

“Early cancer detection saves lives,” Backman said. “Cervical cancer is a great example. It used to be the number one cancer in the United States. And right now cervical cancer is number 14 on the list. We didn’t come up with a magical drug. What we learned how to do is to do a Pap smear.” 

The PWS technique has shown promising results in the early detection of colon, pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers. 

“No one has ever been so close to making such a significant dent on cancer mortality,” Backman said.

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