Wired In: Ryan Shelton

Wired In: Ryan Shelton

On Sundays, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference maker. This week, meet Ryan Shelton, 32, CEO of PhotoniCare, which was founded in 2013 to improve patient care, equipping physicians with better diagnostic tools developed at a bioengineering research lab here. PhotoniCare is commercializing University of Illinois technology that improves on the common otoscope and can look through the eardrum and into the middle ear to enable a more accurate view of ear disease.

The team

Director of Clinical Development Ryan Nolan and I are working full-time. I co-founded this company with a professor, Dr. Stephen A. Boppart, at the Beckman Institute; we've licensed the technology from the university.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I started at the university as a post-doc after being in academia all my life. I got my Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 2012 and came up here to get some clinical experience. I joined Steve's lab, and over the last three years, we developed and fleshed out this technology. It's exciting because it has commercial applications. I've taken some business classes. All the resources through the UI have been a tremendous help.

What does your product do that nothing else does?

A typical otoscope cannot penetrate beyond the eardrum. Ours uses near infra-red light, in a way similar to ultrasound. The light is shined on the tissue and it bounces back, and depending upon what time it comes back, we can build up images of the inner ear. It allows us to essentially see through tissue and show it on a screen. In cases of children who are sick, we see fluid and biofilms. Part of the reason I'm ambitious about solving this problem is that both my children had chronic ear disease in the first year of their lives. Tube surgery is the most common surgery in children. No other product can look through the eardrum like that. We're developing one low-cost model for pediatricians and a high-performance version for specialists.

What's in the future for PhotoniCare?

We're in a regulatory process and are seeking FDA approval. We expect FDA approval in the first quarter of 2017. We're working with Medicaid and private payers on reimbursement issues. We've raised about $2 million in grant funds and a little bit of private capital; that's been exciting. We're also looking at applications in other parts of the body.

Tech tidbits ... from Ryan Shelton


Favorite app: I use TurboScan.

Book or Kindle? Books

Wearable electronics? Nothing in particular right now

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