March 20, 2019 | 28° F

Rutgers biotechnology company receives $500,000 grant


A Rutgers biotechnology company has recently received an investment of $500,000.

Visikol Inc. was founded at Rutgers by two graduate students, Michael Johnson, the Chief Executive Officer, and Thomas Villani, the Chief Science Officer. The team also includes Nick Crider, the Chief Operating Officer. Johnson and Villani are both members of the Graduate School—New Brunswick.

The company develops an agent which makes biological tissues transparent, Villani said. This technology has proved useful in a variety of fields including plant biology, toxicology and even medicine.

The investment was given to Visikol by Foundation Venture Capital Group, LLC, a non-profit organization that mainly invests in New Jersey startups, he said.

Villani began working on the chemical as a graduate student after learning that chlorohydrate was the common chemical used to make tissues transparent, he said.

“(It) just struck me as silly that we would be using something that is illegal to do something that isn’t illegal," he said.

Villani then worked with James Simon, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology and Adolfina Koroch, a visiting scientist, to develop Visikol.

Villani said Visikol is distinct from other chemicals who have a similar use. Other chemicals may have drawbacks such as taking too long or containing carcinogens.

“Most of the other techniques just exist in the literature, there’s very few companies out there that are trying to do what we do," he said. "We were the only ones at this giant toxicology conference that even mentioned anything about clearing. It’s definitely a new way to look at tissue."

Visikol can also be used to authenticate certain plants, said Harna Patel, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior.

“One of its many uses, specifically with plants, is that it can be used for quality control," she said.

Another useful quality of Visikol is that it allows scientists to visualize tissue in three dimensions.

“Visikol is really good at showing how a network of cells can interact because you can look at it in three dimensions rather than just a slice,” Villani said.

As of now, Visikol’s three biggest customers are pharmaceutical companies, contract research labs and non-profit research organizations, he said.

FVCG is a part of the New Jersey health foundation and mainly works with projects in the science and medical field, Villani said.

“They’ve worked with a number of Rutgers professors but they’ve never worked with graduate students before," Villani said.

With this $500,000 investment money, they hope to work in research in three specific fields, he said.

“Cancer research, developmental biology research and Alzheimer’s Disease and neuroscience research are the three fields that can most benefit from being able to look at the whole tissue rather than just a tiny little slice. So that’s what we’ll be focusing on," he said.

Madhuri Bhupathiraju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @madhuri448 for more.

Madhuri Bhupathiraju

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