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Biomedical Imaging and Biophotonics

Biomedical Imaging and Biophotonics

Through a New Window

The discovery of X-ray more than 100 years ago revolutionized medical care by opening a window into the human body. Now biophotonics promises us a new window for medical breakthroughs.

Researchers are using beams of light to stimulate and control bundles of nerve cells that may allow amputees to control and feel the movement of prosthetic limbs. Laser techniques are used in breast cancer and brain tumor detection and surgery. And biophotonics is playing a key role in the federal government’s BRAIN Initiative and the National Institutes of Health’s Precision Medicine Initiative, demonstrating support for interdisciplinary research and information sharing.

BiomedicalThe new Biophotonics Center at Vanderbilt provides a home for the university researchers dedicated to translational research of such photonic technologies for biomedical research and clinical use. It brings together faculty members who focus on the science and applications of light and light-based technologies to solve problems in medicine and biology.

It’s more than that: Simply put, the research center—led by Anita Mahadevan-Jansen—opens a new window into the human body. The center’s mission encompasses three main areas: cancer photonics, neurophotonics and multiscale photonics.

Although the center is new, many of the building blocks were already in place. Mahadevan-Jansen, the Orrin H. Ingram Professor of Biomedical Engineering and professor of neurological surgery, says they’re poised to be a world-class program that can span from the laboratory bench to bedside and from academic environment to the marketplace.

Set up as core labs, and in part, as thematic research labs, the center’s facility includes laboratories for clinical spectroscopy/diagnostics, Raman spectroscopy, optical imaging, optical coherence tomography, neurophotonics, high-power lasers and core support facilities. Those include bioluminescence imaging, spectrophotometry, image analysis and processing, microscopy, small animal surgery and fully equipped labs for cell and tissue culture as well as histology. It also includes a state-of-the-art optics teaching lab to provide undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on training in biomedical photonics.

Several of these labs have pioneered enhancements in optical imaging and applications for optical diagnosis and treatment of breast, cervical, thyroid, liver and skin cancers. They’ve also had success in using infrared light as an alternative to electrodes in peripheral nerve stimulation as a way of exciting and inhibiting nerves.

Anita Mahadevan-JansenForty faculty members from 25 academic departments across the university and clinical departments of Vanderbilt University Medical Center are affiliated with the research center. It interfaces with existing centers and institutes such as the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, the Brain Institute and Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education.

Mahadevan-Jansen says that that level of cross-campus collaboration demonstrates commitment to establish a leading center aimed at fundamental discovery and research, while at the same time pursuing optical
technologies aimed at improving patient care.

The Biophotonics Center is headquartered in a recently renovated 5,000-square-foot research space within the W.M. Keck Free Electron Laser building. Current funding in biophotonics research at Vanderbilt totals nearly $25 million.


Research mentioned is supported in part by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and National Institutes of Health.

Top Photo: Surgeon Carmen Solorzano uses a near-infrared fluorescence system developed by Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (right) and Ph.D. student Melanie McWade to avoid the inadvertent removal of parathyroid glands during endocrine surgery. Patients have fewer post-surgery complications when the parathyroids are not affected.