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.