UC Davis Startup Develops Monitor That Measures Baby’s Blood Oxygen Saturation in the Womb

Daniel Fong (left) an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student, and Soheil Ghiasi (right), a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Daniel Fong (left) an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student, and Soheil Ghiasi (right), a professor of electrical and computer engineering, are photographed in Ghiasi’s lab in Kemper Hall, February 2020. Ghiasi and Fong have invented a patented device that can measure blood oxygen saturation in a fetus through the maternal abdomen. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis Photo)

Soheil Ghiasi, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has launched a startup, Storx Technologies, to commercialize a noninvasive pulse oximeter that can measure a baby’s blood oxygen saturation while it is still in the womb. His innovation may lead to safer deliveries and enable new fetal research.

Since he joined the UC Davis faculty in 2004, Ghiasi’s main focus has been application-specific embedded computers.

“These are computers that don’t look like computers,” said Ghiasi. “They are pretty much everywhere. Some are in low-end devices like toys or coffeemakers. But some have high-end, mission-critical requirements, and are integrated into military applications, airplanes or medical devices.”

He became interested in fetal monitoring technology after his daughter was born. During her delivery, the readings on the fetal monitors, which measure heart rate and uterine contractions, fell into a gray zone, indicating possible low oxygen levels. Inadequate oxygen supply to the fetus can result in hypoxic brain injury, and can lead to disabilities or death.

“Some patterns are obviously alarming so doctors do an emergency C-section,” said Ghiasi. “And some patterns show there isn’t a problem. But there’s a gray area in the middle, which is referred to as ‘non-reassuring’ fetal heart rate traces. ”

Because of his daughter’s non-reassuring heart rate, she was delivered via C-section. Both mother and daughter were fine, but the major abdominal surgery meant a long recovery for his wife.

Afterwards, Ghiasi learned that non-reassuring fetal heart traces are not uncommon during delivery. He also learned that in the United States, C-sections account for almost a third of all births — a rate higher than most developed countries — without resulting in better health outcomes for mothers and babies.

“I was new to this. I did some research and connected with colleagues at UC Davis Health who work on the obstetric side as well as those working with animal models. There’s a large body of research about fetal oxygen levels,” said Ghiasi.

With current fetal monitors, the health of a baby is inferred from her heartrate and mother’s uterine contractions, but the baby’s exact level of oxygen is not known. Ghiasi began to think about a non-invasive way to determine the fetal blood oxygen levels in utero, rather than solely relying on cardiac patterns, to know when a fetus was truly in distress and in need of delivery by C-section.

He pictured something similar to a pulse oximeter, the inexpensive devices that are widely used in healthcare and can be clipped onto a finger, earlobe, or even toe to measure blood oxygen saturation.

“When blood is not oxygenated it looks darker, and when it’s oxygenated it looks redder. The pulse oximeter shines light and registers how much of the light is absorbed. Then, it performs some color analysis to compute the fraction of red blood cells that carry oxygen,” explained Ghiasi.

Developing a noninvasive fetal monitor

In fall 2018, Ghiasi received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to work on improving fetal monitoring.

Along with Daniel D. Fong, a Ph.D. student in his lab, Ghiasi designed a noninvasive transabdominal fetal oximeter that transmits near-infrared light through the mother’s abdomen.

The small amount of tissue-diffused light is sensed on the maternal abdomen; the measurements are subsequently analyzed to remove the contributions of mother’s tissue layers and to infer measurements that are strictly due to the fetal tissue. Such measurements are then utilized, similar to conventional pulse oximeters, to compute the baby’s blood oxygen saturation.

Ghiasi worked with InnovationAccess to file a Record of Invention for the technology and, in July 2018, the University of California filed a patent application for his and Fong’s invention.

They collaborated with Diana L. Farmer, a renowned fetal and neonatal surgeon at UC Davis, to successfully test and validate the trans-abdominal fetal oximeter on pregnant ewes.

They also worked with Herman Hedriana and Aijun Wang at UC Davis Health; Andre Knoesen, Vivek Srinivasan and Weijian Yang at UC Davis; Michael G. Ross at UCLA; and M. Austin Johnson, previously at UC Davis Health and now at the University of Utah.

“Through collaboration with all of these colleagues we were able to successfully test our innovation in animal models,” said Ghiasi

Results from their research were presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine pregnancy meeting in February, and were recently published in IEEE Transactions in Biomedical Engineering.

Next up is testing the novel fetal monitoring system with humans.

“We have approval to test patients who are at least 36 weeks pregnant and are coming in for routine checks. If that goes well, the next phase will be to test this during labor. That would be the ultimate application,” said Ghiasi. Read more >


AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-1101, [email protected]
Soheil Ghiasi, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 530- 752-0836, [email protected]


Startup Uses Advanced Imaging Technology and Machine Learning to Sort Seeds and Insects

UC Davis startup Spectral Analytix applies machine vision, robotics and machine learning to automatically classify or sort seeds and insects.

UC Davis startup Spectral Analytix applies machine vision, robotics and machine learning to automatically classify or sort seeds and insects. (Hector Amezcua/UC Davis)

Original Post:

Christian Nansen, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has launched a startup, Spectral Analytix, to apply machine vision and machine learning to the classification and sorting of seeds and insects.

“The idea is to combine machine vision, robotics and machine learning so you have an automatic eye, an automated arm and an automated brain,” said Nansen. “If you automate those three components you end up with a system that can automatically classify or sort whatever you are working with.”

For the machine “vision,” Nansen works with hyperspectral cameras, which collect data at very high spectral resolution. “The camera on your phone divides light into three wavelengths—red, blue and green,” said Nansen. “You can think of it like a cake with three layers—for each pixel you have three values. With a hyperspectral camera you have 250 bands, so the ‘cake’ now has 250 layers.”

Hyperspectral imaging is used for a wide variety of applications, from mining to surveillance to investigating works of art. Paired with machine learning, hyperspectral imaging is widely used in food processing and recycling industries for sorting.

Several aspects of crop breeding and commercialization of crop seeds involve inspection and quality control.

“Often, these inspection and control measures are time consuming and rely on highly trained technicians. They may also be associated with consistency challenges due to human error. So, replacing them with automated procedures can improve such inspection and control measures and also enable people to focus on other tasks that involve higher levels of complexity,” said Nansen.

Read more…


Startup Founded by Researchers From UC Davis and UC Berkeley Acquired by TDK Corporation

Chirp Microsystems

By Lisa Howard

Chirp Microsystems, a startup enabled with technology developed at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, announced it has been acquired by Japanese electronics giant TDK Corporation.

Based in Berkeley, Chirp Microsystems makes tiny, ultra-low power sensors that function like sonar or echolocation, sending out ultrasonic sound waves and then measuring how long it takes for the returning echo to come back. The micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology enables extremely precise sensing, ranging from several centimeters to several meters.

Chirp’s sensor technology can be used in drones, robots, vehicles, smart home products, augmented reality and virtual reality systems, and many other applications. Because the transducers are just a few millimeters across, they use very little power compared to a conventional ultrasound transducer.

Chirp was one of 13 companies enabled by UC Davis research during fiscal year 2014–15. The company licensed intellectual property from the University of California and currently owns over 20 patents covering the core MEMS device technology, application specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC) design, packaging, signal processing, ultrasound systems, and applications.

David Horsley, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is a co-founder of Chirp and the chief technology officer.

“Professor Horsley is an exemplar of the type of faculty entrepreneur who is driving societal impact through innovation in the collaborative environment that the University of California fosters, and that the UC Davis College of Engineering enables,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of research and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “The novel sensor system that he invented and that was developed by Chirp Microsystems, where he was co-founder and chief technology officer, is an example of the cutting-edge technology and engineering innovation being driven by our faculty.”

David Horsley, co-founder of Chirp Microsystems and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis, explains the technology behind Chirp’s sensors at CES 2016. (Credit: National Science Foundation)

Horsley and his graduate students developed the sensor technology collaboratively with Bernhard Boser, a professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. Much of the work was done at the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, which conducts industry-relevant, interdisciplinary research on micro- and nano-scale sensors.

“UC research projects like ours fill an important role of conducting fundamental research that can have commercial impact,” Horsley said. “After the fundamental work was done, we founded Chirp based on a vision of tiny ultrasonic sensors in everyday devices, from smart-phones to robots. As part of TDK, Chirp will have the resources and global scale to make this vision a reality.”

The acquisition announcement from TDK highlighted Chirp’s synergies with TDK sensors and sensor fusion software libraries. TDK also noted the uniqueness of Chirp’s sensors: “Chirp’s ultrasonic sensors are robust, accurate, draw less power and are smaller than the ultrasonic range finders used in today’’s automotive applications and industrial solutions,” the company said in their statement.

Chirp will become a fourth business unit, Ultrasonic Tracking and RangeFinding, within InvenSense, a TDK Group company headquartered in San Jose. InvenSense is a world leading provider of MEMS sensor platforms. Chirp will remain based in Berkeley.

About Chirp Microsystems
Chirp Microsystems mission is to bring ultrasonic sensing to everyday products. Founded in 2013 based on pioneering research performed at the University of California, Chirp’s piezoelectric MEMS ultrasonic transducers offer long range and low power sensing capabilities in a micro-scale package, enabling products to accurately perceive absolute position in the three-dimensional world in which we live. Combined with Chirp’s embedded software library, these sensors advance user experiences with VR/AR, mobile, wearables, robotics, drones and occupancy detection.

About UC Davis
UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 35,000 students, an annual research budget of over $780 million and a comprehensive health system. The university offers 102 undergraduate majors and 99 graduate programs through four colleges and six professional schools.

About Venture Catalyst
Venture Catalyst is one of three units within the Technology Management & Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research. Venture Catalyst furthers the university’s educational, research and public mission by supporting UC Davis students, faculty and researchers in translating science, engineering and innovative research, through well-resourced startups, into societal impact.

Media Contact


UC Davis Startup Receives FDA Clearance for Polymer That Can Help Injured Bones Regrow

Charles Lee

Charles Lee, the founder of Molecular Matrix Inc., is a stem cell biologist and an assistant adjunct professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Molecular Matrix has received Food and Drug Administration clearance for a synthetic bone void filler, Osteo-P, that can help injured bones regrow. (Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis)

By Lisa Howard

A biotechnology startup enabled by UC Davis, Molecular Matrix Inc., has received Food and Drug Administration clearance for a carbohydrate-based polymer that can help injured bones heal and regrow.

Osteo-P™, a synthetic bone graft substitute, supports and guides the growth of new bone — such as when there is a loss of bone due to injury or surgery — after which the biomaterial is resorbed and replaced with the patients’ own bone during the healing process. With the 510(k) FDA clearance, Molecular Matrix will now be able to take Osteo-P to market.

“This is yet another meaningful milestone for UC Davis and our technology commercialization efforts,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Technology Management and Corporate Relations, and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “Our focus on innovation and technology commercialization is a direct reflection of its being one of the most tangible ways in which the university can fulfil its mission of public benefit and societal impact.”

For Charles Lee, the founder of Molecular Matrix and also an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at the UC Davis School of Medicine, the FDA clearance marks an exciting turning point for the company UC Davis helped him found in 2011.

“What began as an idea from UC Davis has reached all the way to FDA clearance,” Lee said.

Lee received his B.S. in microbiology and Ph.D. in comparative pathology and did his postdoctoral work at UC Davis. He became fascinated by stem cells as an undergraduate when he had an internship with Alice Tarantal, professor of pediatrics and cell biology and human anatomy in the UC Davis School of Medicine, and the associate director of the UC Davis School of Medicine Stem Cell Program.

Tarantal gave him a line of stem cells to culture.

“I fell in love with those cells,” Lee said. “That’s how I got into stem cell biology. There was nothing else I wanted to do than study and research them.”

The stem cells he worked with were grown in a single layer, but Lee began thinking about new ways to grow them.

“Stem cells behave much differently when they are grown in an aggregate as opposed to a monolayer,” he said. “But building up stem cells is not easy. It requires a scaffold — a matrix or structure — to help support the cells to grow into an organoid.”

Stem cell substrates did exist, but Lee said none was ideal. “I specifically wanted to use a carbohydrate, a sugar, for scaffolding. I wanted it to be degradable and nontoxic, to not affect stem cells in any way,” Lee said.

The invention he came up with, a hyper-crosslinked carbohydrate polymer technology, provides a platform for stem cells to grow both in vitro and in vivo. Lee explained that the platform is all about cross-linking.

“We chemically crosslink the carbohydrate molecules to build a massive structure. It’s crosslinked so much that it can hold its shape under heat and pressure.”

Helping bones regrow

For its first clinical launch, Molecular Matrix focused on creating a polymer product to help bones regrow without stem cell transplantation.

“Bone is a good place to start,” Lee said. “It is simpler to regenerate than other organic systems.” The polymer platform has potential to be used for other clinical and research applications. “Cartilage or heart tissue, for example,” Lee said.

In its unprocessed form, Osteo-P is spongy and porous and can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Lee explained that the unique composition of Osteo-P creates an optimal microenvironment for bone precursors such as osteoblasts, leading to the formation of healthy bone.

“The need for bone substitute products is expected to expand,” said Jim Keefer, COO of Molecular Matrix. “The global bone graft and substitutes market was estimated at $2.1 billion in 2013 and is expected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2020.”

The company plans to release the product for single-patient use possibly as early as mid-March. It will be available as large pore granules, sheets, cubes, wedges and cylinders or in custom sizes.

Lee credits the Technology Management and Corporate Relations unit at UC Davis as being essential to Molecular Matrix’s success, helping him navigate the dual roles of innovative researcher and entrepreneur. TMCR provided support for everything from patent processing to incorporation to networking to helping him raise capital.

Starting out, Lee thought he would need to focus primarily on raising capital to grow his startup, but focusing on people turned out to be his best investment.

“I ended up getting more and more people who believed in the technology, and when the people came together, the money followed,” Lee said. “Jim Keefer, our COO, was instrumental in getting broader interest in the company.”

“What is most heartening about how Charles has grown and developed Molecular Matrix is his engagement of UC Davis students as interns and employees within the company,” said Pathak. “Charles could have set up the company anywhere, but he chose to build and grow it in proximity to UC Davis, thereby benefiting from close access to university resources, including Venture Catalyst, while contributing to regional economic impact. Charles’ recognition of the talent pool that UC Davis represents is no small driver of the company’s success.”

Despite the challenges of juggling many roles, Lee never once considered letting another company commercialize the scaffolding technology he developed.

“We scientists have fun developing projects, ideas and concepts into something that can ultimately help patients,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine stopping in the middle and having someone else have all the fun. I want to take it all the way — from benchtop to bedside.”

Media Contacts

Media Resources

UC Davis Startup Evolve BioSystems Announces Results of Clinical Study

baby holding mothers finger

Evolve BioSystems, Inc., a spin-off from the UC Davis Foods for Health Institute (FFHI) that is developing novel solutions to restore and maintain a healthy newborn gut microbiome, announced today the outcome of its clinical study evaluating the probiotic product B. infantis EVC001 in breast-fed infants.  In its press release, the company stated that the study showed that providing dietary B. infantis EVC001 resulted in rapid, substantial, and persistent remodeling of the gut microbiome in breastfed infants, leading to a reduction in the amount of potentially harmful bacteria.

Evolve’s founding team, which includes UC Davis faculty members Bruce German, David Mills, Carlito Lebrilla and Daniela Barile, along with former FFHI Assistant Director Samara Freeman, has been conducting research at the forefront of infant nutritional health for over a decade, focusing on the key role that breast milk plays in creating a healthy intestinal tract. The company is led by nutrition and health industry veterans Timothy Brown, the company’s CEO, and David Kyle, the company’s Board Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer.

“These results with B. infantis EVC001 demonstrate for the first time that when the appropriate probiotic bacteria are provided in combination with breast milk, they can rapidly and stably colonize the infant gut microbiome while significantly reducing levels of potentially harmful bacteria linked to long-term disease,” said Mark Underwood M.A.S., M.D., Chief of Pediatric Neonatology and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California Davis, and a principle investigator on the study. “This study is extremely important for infant health and nutrition because we may now have the potential to impact many common health issues by simply restoring the microbiome to its natural state.”

”We are thrilled to see the successful translation of university research into beneficial health outcomes for infants with the potential to persist into later life,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Research and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “This success is particularly heartening given the close working relationship developed with the company and support provided by the InnovationAccess and Venture Catalyst teams at UC Davis”

View Evolve’s press release for more information.

Startup Cognivive Plans Games as Digital Therapies

From ideas to innovation with STAIR grants
By Andy Fell on November 6, 2017 in Human & Animal Health

A startup company founded by a University of California, Davis, neuroscientist is developing video games that act as “digital medicine” to treat children with cognitive impairments, as well as people with cognitive limitations resulting from brain injury or aging. The company, Cognivive, is built on research by co-founder Tony Simon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at UC Davis, and others showing that playing action video games can enhance players’ spatiotemporal cognitive abilities.

Cognivive is one of 22 startups selected by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities for an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13 and 14. The company was also recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, for feasibility studies.

Children with neurodevelopment disorders and adults with brain injuries or challenges from aging experience space and time in low resolution, Simon said.

“It’s like a low-resolution camera,” he said. “If you have a high-resolution image, you can do a lot more with it than you can with a low-resolution image. There is a loss of information in how the world is represented.”

Simon began thinking about using video games to build up cognitive abilities about 15 years ago, after seeing a conference poster on the effects of action video games on the brain. Later, he connected it with his own research on how we perceive the world and how cognitive deficits affect some people.

About five years ago, Simon began working with San Francisco-based Funonema to develop some game concepts. Ted Aronson of Funonema is a co-founder of Cognivive.

Building capacity, not just skill

Anyone can get better at a skill by practice, Simon said. But the goal is to develop not just skills, but underlying capacity.

“If I flip a coin a hundred times, I can get good at flipping coins, but it doesn’t help me play the piano,” he said. Playing commercially available action games can build skills, but it doesn’t necessarily build capacity.

Cognivive’s games aim to boost that underlying capacity that different skills can draw on.

“We want these to be full commercial quality games that people will want to play,” Simon said. “If we have a digital medicine, people have to want to take it.”

So far, Cognivive has developed games for desktop computers, but virtual reality — where players wear a headset that covers their entire field of view — and augmented reality, which overlays a game over real-world surroundings, offer great potential for therapeutic games, Simon said.

Media contact(s)

Andy Fell, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533, [email protected]

Tony Simon, UC Davis MIND Institute, 916-703-0407, [email protected]

Media Resources

University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase

UC Davis signs agreement to license novel CT scanning technology

UC Davis signs agreement to license novel CT scanning technology

Startup licensee focused on early-stage breast cancer detection and diagnosis

UC Davis has signed a licensing agreement providing Isotropic Imaging Corporation the rights to commercialize a novel computed tomography (CT) scanner that has the potential to improve breast cancer detection and positively impact women’s health.

The technology was developed at UC Davis by a team led by John Boone, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering and a member of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. The primary advantage of the scanner is that it provides true three-dimensional and highly-detailed images of the human breast, offering a less obstructed view of potential lesions than provided by current two-dimensional mammograms.

Boone developed the technology as a new tool to diagnose breast cancers in women found to have suspicious lesions following a screening mammogram. Boone said breast CT might replace existing diagnostic breast modalities including mammography, ultrasound and MRI for many patients.

“We know that MRI, used with a contrast agent, is an excellent tool for breast cancer diagnosis, particularly for women at high risk,” Boone said. “And we think that contrast-enhanced breast CT would be equivalent. But it would also be less expensive, quicker and more comfortable for patients.”

Unlike mammography, the scanner does not require compression of the breast. Instead, the patient lies face down on a padded table and places the breast in a circular opening. The scanner generates 300 to 500 images of the breast around 360°, which are then assembled into a three-dimensional digital model. The imaging procedure takes approximately 10 seconds and uses equivalent levels of radiation dose as standard two-view mammography.

With funds from the National Institutes of Health, Boone’s team has assembled four scanners that have been used to image more than 600 women at the UC Davis Medical Center and one other institution as part of a clinical trial.

“Results from a preliminary study show that breast CT scanning was significantly better than mammography for finding masses that could later be identified as cancerous,” Boone said. “In addition, it was found that not only did breast density have much less of a negative impact compared to mammography, participants said that lying down to use the CT scanner was an improvement in comfort versus having their breasts compressed in the mammography machine.”

Boone is currently leading additional clinical trials to compare non-contrast-enhanced CT versus mammography as a breast screening tool for women at average risk of breast cancer.

Robert Thast, CEO of Isotropic Imaging Corp., notes that about one in eight women and one in one thousand men in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes.

“We see a great opportunity to transform how breast cancer is diagnosed with this new approach,” he said.

The license, negotiated by InnovationAccess, within the Technology Management & Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research, provides Isotropic Imaging with rights to patents covering novel methods of breast cancer imaging and diagnosis, including a unique algorithm that compensates for imaging differences throughout the breast tissue.

Isotropic Imaging is currently evaluating options to fast track applications with regulatory authorities in the United States and elsewhere. The company is finalizing business and marketing plans in preparation for market launch pending regulatory approvals.

“The interdisciplinary research that led to the development of this exciting technology is emblematic of the One Health and engineering synergies we are realizing at UC Davis,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for Technology Management & Corporate Relations and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “Our leadership in delivering quality patient care, combined with our strengths in biomedical research and engineering technology development, allow us to enable university-affiliated startups to more effectively translate academic research into societal benefit.”

About Isotropic Imaging Corp.

Isotropic Imaging Corporation is a Nevada-based company established in 2016. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian-based Izotropic Corporation.