On Sundays, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference maker. This week, meet DR. LEANNE LABRIOLA, 36, the daughter of an Italian grocer and English professor who became a Carle ophthalmologist and professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.
She graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006. She is co-founder of InnSight Technology, which is developing a handheld device that even nonspecialists can use to quickly detect severe eye injuries, for instance, in a farm field or on a battlefield.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I really feel that I like to take on a new challenge. My dad is an entrepreneur. My grandfather had a grocery store in Pittsburgh. During the Depression, he took IOUs — people said they were saved by him at that time. My father took the business and grew it from one store to four. Now my younger brother is in the business. I worked as a cashier and saw how my father loved his work, so I always wanted to be self-sufficient. My two older sisters and I became doctors. I went into medicine because I love science and problem-solving. My family's example led me to pursue a business on my own.
How did you get to Champaign-Urbana?
I met my husband, Dr. Craig Norbitt, in eye training in Pittsburgh. He is an oral surgeon and came to Carle five years ago. I've been here since 2013.
How has the University of Illinois helped with starting a business?
Enterprise Works has been great. They really think of every angle on how to improve the product. Also, we work with the Biomedical Research Center. UI Department of Bioengineering Professor Dipanjan Pan, the company's co-founder, is affiliated with the center. Carle has encouraged new endeavors and allowed me time for that.
What does your product do?
A lot of what we do in opthalmology is treat eye injuries. The patient may go to the ER and be transferred to a specialist. When we evaluate eyes for trauma, we use a subjective test involving dyes that can be unreliable. What our company is developing is OcuCheck, an objective testing device that detects a chemical that is 20 times more concentrated inside the eye than on the tear film, ascorbic acid — vitamin C. If there is severe damage to the eye that penetrates deeply, the ascorbic acid will leak out in high concentration. OcuCheck will be handheld and affordable It will be user-friendly; an EMT could use it in a farm injury. It could be used on a battlefield, where half of the injuries from shrapnel are to the eye. In the hospital, it could be used to monitor surgical incisions.
What's next for InnSight?
The sensors are completed. We are still in the test phase and expect to have OcuCheck on the market within two to three years, depending on the FDA. We have funding from the National Science Foundation. We also expect our next partner to be the Department of Defense, since there is so much potential for helping treat soldiers. Our company has a really bright future ahead.
What do you do when you're not at work?
I am learning about Midwest gardening. We're taking tennis lessons, and we enjoy traveling. Now we're into ski vacations.
Tech tidbits ...
... from LEANNE LABRIOLA
Social networks: LinkedIn, Facebook
Book or Kindle? Books. I read a lot about entrepreneurship. I really enjoyed "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead." I also recently read "The Secret Club That Runs the World" about commodities training. I'm just starting the Executive MBA program.