"The NIH SBIR program has allowed us to partner with key academic institutions including Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as well as leading microscopy companies like Zeiss, Leica, and Olympus to develop our technologies now selling to 1,500 labs located in 44 countries across the world."
– Jack Glaser – President and Co-Founder
The human brain is one of biology’s greatest mysteries. It is the source of our thoughts, emotions, and memories; it gives us the abilities that make us human, while simultaneously making each of us unique. Understanding the brain’s structure and function is critical for advancing the future of neuroscience and comprehensively understanding individual brain cells and complex neural circuits.
MBF Bioscienceis a Vermont-based company that designs world–renowned quantitative microscope imaging systems for counting cells and quantifying the neuronal structure of the nervous system at the cellular level, creating the potential to develop novel treatment strategies for brain injury and disease
Neurolucida is used for analyzing the shape, size, and distribution of neurons.
Co-founded in 1987 as MicroBrightField Inc., current president Jack Glaser, then a computer programmer at the University of Vermont, teamed with his father Edmund Glaser, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland to develop computer software for tracing neurons in 3D.
Edmund Glaser had previously developed and patented a mini-computer monitor that attached to a microscope, and Jack sought to create software to connect the microscope to the personal computer (PC) that was rapidly gaining popularity.
After winning an NIH SBIR grant in 1988, "I was able to leave my full-time job at the university and dedicate myself fully to writing computer software," says President Jack Glaser. "We grew slowly and incrementally when the company first started, and were able to hire more full-time employees and create more products in the 1990s."
MBF used much of the SBIR funding that followed to create solutions that change how research is done today. The company first opened operations in Europe in the late 1990’s, then the biggest export market for its first product Neurolucida™, and soon expanded sales to Japan. Their Fast-track SBIR grant led to the development of the automatic tracing program called AutoNeuron™that built upon the Neurolucida concept and subsequent Phase IIB funding allowed MBF to work on more complex imaging scenarios.
The company changed its name to MBF Bioscience in 2005 and has grown into a global 10 million dollar business with 34 full-time employees and 5 part-time summer interns, and offices in North and South America, Europe, Japan, more recently Brazil and China, as well as a dealer network active on five continents. Their technology can be found in 1,500 labs in 44 countries, including Korea, India, and Singapore. Over 9,000 peer reviewed scientific publications have cited the use of MBF systems for data collection and analysis.
Neurolucida – An SBIR Success Story that Enables Future Research and Inspires Innovation
Neurolucida, one of MBF Bioscience’s leading products, is a powerful tool for creating and analyzing realistic, meaningful, and quantifiable 2D and 3D neuron reconstructions from microscope images. It is cited over 7 times more than all other available neuron tracing programs combined and has been providing reliable data and analyses to neuroscientists for over 25 years.
MBF has leveraged the NIH SBIR Phase I, Phase II, Fast-Track and Phase IIB funding mechanisms from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop Neurolucida as their core proprietary technology, and continues developing follow-on products with additional SBIR awards and other research grants. In total, MBF has received over 12 million NIH SBIR dollars for R&D to create a suite of MBF software systems.
Neurolucida is able to perform a detailed analysis of neurons, such as quantifying:
- the number of dendrites, axons, branches, synapses, and spines;
- the length, width, and volume of dendrites and axons;
- area and volume of the soma; and
- the complexity and extension of neurons.
Reconstructing neurons has led to advances in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as advances in other research fields such as ophthalmology. Under a recent Lab to Market grant, MBF has also partnered with Mount Sinai School of Medicine using the best of latest technology to further develop the ability to model the structure of the smallest dendritic spines in 3D. These advancements will address a critical gap in elucidating the morphology of entire dendritic trees thus providing unprecedented insight into the complex yet dynamic relationships between neuronal structure and function.
Offering Powerful Research Solutions through MBF’s Suite of Software Systems
In addition to understanding the shape of the neuron itself, researchers also need to understand the structure-function relationship of neurons as well as changes in populations of neurons during disease.
Using over 30 probes and extension modules, Stereo Investigator® helps fill this need by providing accurate, unbiased estimates of the number of changes in length, area, and volume of cells or biological structures in a tissue specimen. It is the most-cited system for stereology, with over 4,000 citations in published research papers.
Researchers working with dynamic pictures of the brain understand that image data sets require a lot of storage space. The Biolucida® Cloud platform introduced in 2008 enables researchers to harness the power of big data by viewing, organizing and sharing large microscope image data over the internet.
MBF has a partnership with the Journal of Comparative Neurology(JCN) so that researchers who publish in JCN can provide their data sets via Biolucida, enabling new collaborations between experts in their field as well as other scientific areas.
Another application of Biolucida is in medical education. Biolucida enables educators to teach histology and histopathology using computers and 2D and 3D virtual slides instead of microscopes and glass slides. Biolucida is currently used in the US and eleven other countries.
Neuroscientists often analyze animal models from a systems level to better understand the complex neural circuitry of the organism, but have been unable to quantify the cellular interactions within the organism.
WormLab®is an advanced system for imaging and analyzing C. elegans, commonly used as a model organism in genetics, toxicology, human development, and neurodegeneration. WormLab offers equipment for capturing high-quality videos of worms, and the software for analyzing worm behavior, including reliable, quantifiable analyses about C. elegans’ locomotion, including position, speed, direction, and wavelength.
"Most of MBF's customers are neuroscientists at universities or pharmaceutical companies, researching cures to neurological diseases and trying to figure out how the brain works," says Jack Glaser. "Other customers are looking outside the brain to what causes cancer and other illnesses in the body."
A History of Noble Achievements,
In 2013, MBF won the prestigious Tibbetts Award presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration, who also named Jack Glaser the Vermont Small Business Person of the Year award in 2007 for his outstanding leadership related to his company’s staying power, growth, sales, innovation, and community contributions.
MBF also makes significant contributions to their local Vermont economy through job creation and mentorship of college students interested in STEM professions, and has earned the distinction as one of the Best Places to Work in Vermont in 2007, 2009, and 2010.
With the increasing interest in neuroscience research through President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the potential for revolutionary advances in the study of the human brain is more promising than ever, and companies like MBF Bioscience continue to pioneer these efforts with the help of the NIH SBIR program.
Location: Williston, Vermont
Company Website: http://www.mbfbioscience.com/
Contact: (for questions) Kristin Connors; 802-288-9290; Kristin@mbfbioscience.com
Information for this success story was gathered through an interview that was conducted by Dr. Lenka Fedorkova, the NIH SBIR/STTR Program Manager and Betty Royster, the NIH SBIR/STTR Communications Coordinator.