Research Associate Professor
Associate Director of Science and Technology, Biophotonics Center
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Imaging Scientist
A self-described “cell biologist with physicist envy”, Dr. Millis’s research has three primary foci centered around (1) innovation of novel optical microscopy and imaging technologies in both fundamental and translational biomedical environments (2) acceleration of biomedical research discovery as a function of practical deployment of non “turnkey” imaging and computational instrumentation and (3) education of the next generation of imaging scientists through increased exposure and accessibility of high-end technology and instruction, especially for those at institutions that don’t classically house this expertise. This is evidenced by the Widening The Lens Microscopy Education Program, which aims to disseminate knowledge in the fundamentals of microscopy at the international level. Dr. Millis is passionate about highly interdisciplinary collaboration.
Dr. Millis currently is heavily involved in a unique program housed within the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center termed “BioMIID”, or Biomedical Microscopy- Immersion, Innovation, and Discovery. A truly trans-institutional collaboration between many departments including: Cell and Developmental Biology, Physics, Biological Sciences, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, and Chemistry, this program focuses on building state-of-the-art light sheet microscopes for deployment into an already successful light and electron microscopy core Vanderbilt’s Cell Imaging Shared Resource (CISR). In tandem, the VBC houses complementary instrumentation as optics research instruments for further development. In just three years, the BioMIID program was built from the ground up and has produced two versions of lattice light sheet (LLS) instruments with complementary capabilities, as well as a scanned oblique plane illumination (SOPi) microscope.
Importantly, the team is acutely aware of the challenges associated with such data-intensive instrumentation, and recognizes these hurdles as significant bottlenecks to effective deployment. As such, BioMIID has embedded these instruments within an in-house computational network combining critical aspects of “big data” acquisition and analytics,
including: (a) high speed (40Gbit) networking, (b) fast storage (c) application-specific workstations, and (d) a suite of both open-source and commercial software packages aimed at the most utilized tasks (e.g., 4D visualization, segmentation, deconvolution, transcoding, etc.).
Lastly, Dr. Millis is involved in development of biophotonics tools aimed at dramatically improving surgical and diagnostic guidance. As medicine has progressed, we have increasingly understood the importance of assessing the health of tissues at the cellular level. Ultimately, it is from the cell and subcellular physiological levels, that we must frame greater pathologies at the tissue and systems levels. In many cases, the latter only becomes evident subsequently, when treatment windows collapse. To make this leap, classical cell biology approaches must be extended more fully to native environments if we are to truly understand their normal, and diseased, states. Dr. Millis seeks to innovate a new class of clinical instrumentation through the combination of advanced optical designs that enable less invasive imaging at higher resolutions, with the rapid expansion in capabilities of machine vision, largely catalyzed by the autonomous vehicle industry. Such instrumentation is targeted toward clinicians requiring high-level diagnostics, for early and/or more targeted (and potentially personalized) therapeutics. In addition to providing real time spatiotemporal context, the incorporation of machine learning seeks to provide more robust characterization of features associated with downstream or concurrent disease states.
Dr. Millis's papers can be viewed at his Orcid account linked here.