Alex Vitkin

M-CCPM (Board Certification); Fellow - Optica, SPIE and AIMBE

PhD, McMaster University

Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, 101 College Street, Room 15-313, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5G 1L7
Research Interests
Biomedical Imaging, Cancer Diagnosis and Therapy, Image-Guided Therapy and Device Development

At a Glance

  • Fellow - Optica, SPIE and AIMBE
  • Medical Biophysics Excellence in Mentorship Award
  • Radiation Oncology Sustained Excellence in Research Award
  • MS Patterson Publication Impact Prize in Medical Physics (COMP)
  • GG Stokes Award in Optical Polarization (SPIE)
  • Radiation Medicine Research Productivity Award (2x)
  • International Visiting Lecturer in Biophotonics (invited seminars in 26 countries)
  • Board certification, radiation oncology physics (M-CCPM)
  • 190 peer-reviewed papers, 6 patents

Short Bio

Dr. Alex Vitkin is an engineering physicist/biomedical engineer by training, with further specialization in medical physics and biomedical optics.  He is currently a professor of Medical Biophysics and Radiation Oncology at the University of Toronto, a senior scientist at the Ontario Cancer Institute (Biophysics and Bio-imaging division), and a clinical medical physicist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.  He has published over 190 papers and book chapters on diagnostic and therapeutic uses of light in biomedicine, focusing on functional optical coherence tomography and tissue polarimetry.  He has lectured widely internationally, including delivering special seminars and summer school modules on biophotonics in Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, Colombia, New Zealand, Ukraine, Germany, USA, Cyprus, India and China; he is currently an active participant in the SPIE Visiting Lecturer and Optica Travelling Lecturer programs.  Dr. Vitkin is also a board-certified medical physicist thru the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine (CCPM), and is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America (Optica), the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE), and American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers (AIMBE).  He is the 2022 recipient of SPIE’s GG Stokes Award in Optical Polarization.

Research Synopsis

Biophotonics, or the convergence of light + life, is an active research field that encompasses fundamental science, bio-instrumentation engineering, pre-clinical testing, and a variety of clinical applications. The common core theme is biomedical optics – lasers, optical fibers, photodetectors, light propagation in tissue, diagnostic and therapeutic interactions – and the applications range from early disease detection to functional tissue assessment to light-based therapies to treatment response monitoring. Light is versatile and is of great importance to human life and health, and the range of research projects in MBP Biophotonics Lab reflects that versatility!

Recent work in the Vitkin Laboratory has focused on (1) functional tissue assessment for treatment response monitoring using optical coherence tomography (OCT), and (2) tissue pathology detection using polarized light. Briefly:

(1) OCT is an emerging medical imaging modality that is essentially an in-vivo microscope without the bulky equipment; owing to advances in photonics and fiber optics technologies, small practical systems can be engineered for use in live animal and patients. Like a microscope, it enables micron-scale resolution but can also image below the tissue surface to a depth of 1-3 mm (hence the “tomography” part of the OCT name). We and others have extended OCT’s contrast mechanisms to visualize tissue microvascular blood flow, tissue biomechanical stiffness properties, and more recently lymphatic microcirculation. Importantly, these exciting functional imaging capabilities do not require injection of potentially toxic contrast agents. We are further developing these methods, and exploring their biomedical use. For example, can OCT “shed light” on radiotherapy? Here, we are using functional OCT for quantifying the radiobiological response of irradiated microvasculature to understand, optimize and personalize cancer radiotherapy treatments.

(2) Polarization properties of light remain relatively unexplored in biomedicine, yet contain a wealth of potentially useful tissue biophysical information. We are developing novel polarimetric methods suitable for bulk tissue analysis, primarily focusing on the so-called Mueller Matrix (MM) formalism. Work in this space encompasses the development of advanced experimental polarimetry point-sensing and imaging systems, accurate modelling of polarized light propagation through / interaction with biological tissues, and validation testing in ex-vivo bulk tissues (both animal and human). A recent illustrative clinical example is the use of polarimetry for detecting residual tumour at the margins of the resection cavity during breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy). Here, we propose to use MM-derived metrics to rapidly identify regions of breast tissue heterogeneity and anisotropy that correspond to pathology, and use another technology of mass spectrometry (very accurate but very slow, hence its need for polarimetric guidance) to perform localized definitive diagnosis. If successful, this hybrid technology approach would enable breast surgeons to perform lumpectomies more successfully, minimizing the risk of recurrence due to tumour inadvertently left behind.

Potential research projects in the Vitkin Lab deal with photonic engineering, signal processing and image analysis (including AI / machine learning methods), light propagation in tissue modeling, radiation therapy delivery and dosimetry, pre-clinical validation and testing in mice, surgical specimens imaging, and clinical system engineering and use.

Recent Publications


  • Zabel WJ, Allam N, Foltz WD, Flueraru C, Taylor E and Vitkin IA  Bridging the macro to micro resolution gap with angiographic optical coherence tomography and dynamic contrast enhanced MRI. Nature Sci Reports 12:3159 - 12 (2022)
  • Allam N, Zabel JW, Demidov V, Jones B, Flueraru C, Taylor E and Vitkin IA  Longitudinal in-vivo quantification of tumour microvascular heterogeneity by optical coherence tomography in preclinical radiation therapy.  Nature Sci Reports  12:6140 - 10 (2022)
  • Demidov V, Demidova N, Pires L, Demidova O, Flueraru C, Wilson B, and Vitkin IA  Volumetric tumor delineation and assessment of its early response to radiotherapy with optical coherence tomography. J Biomed Opt 23 087003 - doi: 10.1364/BOE.424045 (2021)
  • Demidov V, Maeda A, Sugita M, Madge V, Sadanand S, Flueraru C and Vitkin IA  Preclinical longitudinal imaging of tumor microvascular radiobiological response with functional optical coherence tomography. Nature Sci Reports 8:38 - 11 (2018)
  • Demidov V, Zhao X, Demidova O, Pang HYM, Flueraru C, Liu F-F, and Vitkin IA  Preclinical quantitative in-vivoassessment of skin tissue vascularity in radiation-induced fibrosis with optical coherence tomography. J Biomed Opt 23 087003 - 9 (2018)
  • Zaitsev VY, Matveyev AL, Matveev LA, Gubarkova EV, Sovetsky AA, Sirotkina MA, Gelikonov GV, Zagaynova EV, Gladkova ND and Vitkin IA  Practical obstacles and their mitigation strategies in compressional optical coherence elastography of biological tissues. J Innov Opt Health Sci 10 1742006 - 13 (2017)


  • Singh M and Vitkin IA  Spatial helicity response metric to quantify particle size and turbidity of heterogeneous media through circular polarization imaging. Nature Sci Reports 13:2232 – 11 (2023)
  • Lad J, Serra S, Quereshy F, Khorasani M and Vitkin IA  Polarimetric biomarkers of peri-tumoral stroma can correlate with 5-year survival in patients with left-sided colorectal cancer. Nature Sci Reports 12:12652 – 12 (2022)
  • Sprenger J, Murray C, Lad J, Jones B, Thomas G, Nofech-Mozes S, Khorasani M and Vitkin IA  Toward an objective method for estimating tumour-stroma ratio in invasive tumour regions using quantitative polarized light microscopy. Biomed Opt Express 12 3241-52 (2021)
  • Jones B, Thomas G, Sprenger J, Nofech-Mozes S, Khorasani M and Vitkin IA  Peri-tumoural stroma collagen organization of invasive ductal carcinoma assessed by polarized light microscopy differs between OncotypeDX risk groups. J Biophotonics 13 (2020)
  • Fung KB, Samim M, Gribble A, Bazdra V and Vitkin IA  Monte Carlo simulation of polarization-sensitive second harmonic generation and propagation in biological tissue. J Biophotonics 11 doi:10.1002/jbio.201800036 (2018)
  • Woolman M, Gribble A, Bluemke E, Zou J, Ventura M, Bernards N, Wu M, Howard J. Ginsberg HJ, Sunit Das S, Vitkin IA and Zarrine-Afsar A  Optimized mass spectrometry analysis workflow with polarimetric guidance for ex vivo and in situ sampling of biological tissues. Sci Reports 7 468 – doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-00272-y (2017)

For a complete list, including PDF's of most papers, click here.

Graduate Students

Michael Singh
Jeff Zabel
Kseniia Tumanova
Hector Contreras
Carla Kulcsar