Top 10 Innovations 2013

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Despite formidable odds, this year was a good one for life science innovation. The double punch of the government-wide belt tightening, known as the sequester, and the two-week federal government shutdown deflated institutional budgets and sowed uncertainty among investors. But new and exciting products still made their way into the marketplace. And with more than 80 products submitted to this year’s Top 10 Innovations contest, our expert panel of judges had the tall task of whittling the crowded field down to the very best.

The competition proved to be so tight that this year’s Top 10 is actually a Top 12, with two ties—for the second and tenth spots. A mini-microscope that can capture networks of brain neurons firing in real time as mice engage in behaviors and a 3-D upgrade to an imaging platform that made an appearance in our 2011 Top 10, are among the winning products that embody the spirit of innovation our competition seeks to capture.

Read about all the products that rose to the top of a very competitive list of submissions to The Scientist‘s Top 10 Innovations of 2013.

And be sure to visit for lots of extra Top 10 information, including expanded comments from our expert panel of judges and a look at products that earned honorable mentions in this year’s contest.

Vice president of venture capital at Pfizer, Dalton is responsible for Pfizer Venture Investments, managing the current private-equity portfolio and advising on structured-equity transactions. She began her career as a scientist and pursued anti-inflammatory drug discovery research at Smith, Kline & French Research Laboratories for 10 years.

Founder and CEO of software company Assay Depot and cofounder of Bio, Tech and Beyond, a nonprofit community laboratory dedicated to life science innovation. In 2001 Lustig founded Kalypsys, a biopharmaceutical company that raised more than $170 million in venture funding and has so far moved five drug candidates into clinical trials.

Manager of business development and a fellow at Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Office of Science and Technology. Prior to joining J&J, Mukhopadhyay gained experience in venture investing at Burrill & Company, in start-ups, and as both the founder of a med-tech company and an advisor to a biotech.

Senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Giddings is also president and CEO of PrometheusAB, Inc., a consultancy that provides regulatory compliance, media, and strategic planning advice to clients in the U.S. and around the world. He founded PrometheusAB after serving for eight years as vice president for Food & Agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

Professor in genetics and molecular microbiology and codirector of The Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, where she orchestrates efforts to explore massively parallel sequencing technologies and to transition them into production sequencing capabilities and new applications. Mardis serves on the scientific advisory boards of DNA Nexus and ZS Genetics.

Director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, chair of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences, and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He is also a founding member of Sage Bionetworks, an open-access genomics initiative designed to build and support databases and an accessible platform for creating innovative, dynamic disease models.

Efforts to spy on neural activity as animals are freely moving about have been impeded by bulky equipment or limitations in human skill sets. Microscopes are often too big to mount to the head of a rodent, and electrophysiological techniques don’t allow for simultaneous monitoring of large networks of active neurons at the resolution of a single cell.

Inscopix’s new mini fluorescence microscope, the nVista HD, smashes those barriers. “Basically, we are imaging at the cellular level the activity of thousands of neurons while an animal is able to freely navigate an established behavioral task,” says Scott Norviel, the company’s director of product marketing. The microscope sticks to a magnetic platform that frames a window in the skull. The detachable microscope weighs just 2 grams and can be plugged in during behavioral tasks or removed to share among a number of animals.

The mice don’t seem to mind the device, says Nikita Rudinskiy, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who is using the microscope to research the neural correlates of dementia in the hippocampus. “They just do their normal stuff,” he says.

The nVista HD carries a hefty price tag of $100,000, but since its debut in October 2012, 100 units have made it to laboratories around the world. Rudinskiy says that there’s no other technology that would offer him the ability to gather data from so many neurons over such a long time frame. “With this system you can image the same mouse, the same several hundred neurons, over days and months,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

MARDIS: This is incredibly cool and will permit so much more understanding of neuronal function and neural circuits in the brain than one can ever get from a static section after sacrificing the mouse.

GIDDINGS: If [this innovation] delivers it will be a major disruptive event in the history of neuroscience, potentially leading to rapid advances across multiple fronts.


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