SEPTEMBER 15, 2008 -- Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) have won a three-year, $1.1 million grant to enable real-time biological images of processes at nanoscale and picoscale resolutions -- a feat never before achieved.
"We're building from scratch an instrument for the UNM Cancer Research and Treatment Center that will make an optical image with a resolution of better than one nanometer," said UNM Physics Professor Jean-Claude Diels, the lead investigator in the program who won the Optical Society of America's Engineering Excellence Award in 2006. "This is considerably less than the wavelength of light, which is generally considered to be the resolution limit for imaging."
Thus, the compact Scanning Phase Intracavity Nanoscope (SPIN) will need to use properties not previously exploited. It promises to sample any host material, water or tissue, with no sample preparation required, and with no harmful radiation such as x-rays or high-energy radiation particle beams. The resulting mapping method will likely have as dramatic an impact on medical imaging as has magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
"We want to be able to see with our eyes what happens in the nanoscale in living organisms," says Diels, who expects it will enable visualization of living cell components. "For instance, we could see the details in the cell membrane. In the membrane you can see a very important path of the cell activity. We could see how a virus penetrates the membrane."
In addition to Diels, who developed the concept of intra-cavity sensors with pulsed lasers critical in the applications of the instrument, Physics Professor Sudhakar Prasad will perform efficient image and data compression for the imaging, and Keith Lidke, an assistant professor in Physics and Astronomy, will provide expertise in high-resolution optical imaging and will manage hardware integration.
The interdisciplinary collaboration also includes researchers in UNM's Cancer Research and Treatment Center (CRTC), and the Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM). At CRTC, Dr. Janet Oliver has enthusiastically supported the project, and CRTC Director Dr. Cheryl Willman has secured future housing and technician support for the instrument.
Professor and CHTM Director Steve Brueck is supporting the construction, housing of the research with the facilities at the CHTM, and participating in scientific development. CHTM research scientist Ladan Arissian, who has been instrumental in the development of the various inventions with Diels, will supervise the students involved in the construction of the nanoscope. Assistant Professor Diane Lidke, an expert in cell biology and membranes, will provide the biological samples for testing and validating the instrument.
The grant was awarded by the W.M. Keck Foundation to support a research program within the Department of Physics titled "A Facility to Perform Bio-molecular Imaging; Real Time Phase Mapping of Biological Dynamics."