Richard Levenson

Richard Levenson

2018 Technology Winner

Idea: Update the microscope to provide diagnostic-quality images, with enhanced information, directly and quickly from fresh or fixed tissue to relieve both the requirement to first have access to histology and the time-consuming and costly processes involved.

With a hybrid background in academia and healthcare, Richard Levenson of UC Davis Medical Center is committed to advancing the availability of accurate and timely cancer diagnostics.

Interview with Richard Levenson

What is your background in healthcare?

I am a board-certified anatomic pathologist, now a professor and vice chair for strategic technology at the University of California, Davis. I’ve had an interesting background in both academia and industry, with faculty positions at Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University, and a 10-year period where I served as VP for Research at Cambridge Research & Instrumentation, a small company that developed advanced imaging instruments for pathology and small-animal research.

Has cancer personally impacted your life? If so, could you please share how?

I am fortunate that I have personally not been affected, but my mother was prematurely taken by lung cancer.

What do you believe is one of the biggest challenges or unmet needs cancer patients currently face?

An accurate, timely diagnosis. This is a problem in the developed world, but much more so in areas that lack the infrastructure needed to process tissue for microscopic examination. Traditional microscopy—used by pathologists—requires glass slides. These can only be prepared in facilities that have access to precision equipment, solvents, electricity, and skilled personnel. These can be located hundreds of kilometers away from a person presenting with a mass, which could be cancer or not.

How did this inspire your C3 Prize idea?

Our MUSE instrument permits nearly instantaneous microscopic examination of tissue without the need to prepare these slices on glass slides. This means that tissue-based diagnoses can be obtained virtually anywhere.

Were there any obstacles in getting your idea off the ground?

The underlying approach was shared with me by the original discoverer of the optical technique that we use. Technically, the system worked amazingly as soon as we built our version. The challenges have come in moving the system from our lab into the commercial sector, which proved to require a completely new set of skills.

What makes your idea innovative compared to other nontreatment solutions?

Diagnosis precedes treatment, and MUSE provides early, accurate, inexpensive, and low-resource-compatible pathology results. The innovation is really the use of low-cost components and simple optical design, all enabled by the novel observation of how UV light in our wavelength range interacts with tissues and dyes.

How would winning the C3 Prize help further your mission? What is your next step if you win the prize?

It would help open the door for significant interactions with health systems and NGOs around the world, with whom we could work to advance the availability of accurate and timely cancer diagnostics.

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