Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
MIT's G.R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory has received $2.4 million in federal renewal grants to continue its laser-related research in physical and biomedical science for the next three years.
Professor Michael S. Feld of the Department of Physics, the laboratory's director, said the funds come from the National Institutes of Health to support the Laser Biomedical Research Center (LBRC), and from the National Science Foundation to support the Laser Research Facility (LRF), both housed in the Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory.
Together, the eight-year-old LBRC and the LRF, now in its 14th year, constitute one of the largest units devoted to basic and applied laser research in the United States.
"Biomedical application of lasers and laser spectroscopy promises to change the face of medicine as it is currently practiced," Professor Feld said. "The new grants will allow the LBRC to continue its explorations in this important area."
That work includes new biomedical research to develop methods to detect invisible precursors of cancer in various organs, to devise novel imaging based on laser light and spectroscopy, and to advance understanding of the mechanisms by which laser light removes biological tissue, with applications to laser microsurgery. In addition, new spectroscopic tools based on light scattering and electronic and vibrational spectroscopy for rapid, non-contact optical bioassay will be developed for clinical use.
An ongoing collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to develop new laser spectroscopic methods for diagnosing and treating artery disease will be expanded, and a major new collaboration will be undertaken with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in the area of laser diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease.
Other biomedical research areas include measuring the mechanical properties of single biological cells, the study of site-specific mutagenesis in visual systems, and the use of Raman spectroscopy to study the chemical structure of biopolymer gels and biological tissues undergoing phase transitions. (In the Raman effect, vibrating molecules of an irradiated sample produce spectral sidebands in the scattered light, which provide molecular structure information.)
The LBRC supports core, collaborative and outside research in the field of lasers in medicine. Its facilities will continue to be provided free of charge to researchers in universities, industry and hospitals pursuing publishable research projects. In addition, the LBRC will continue to sponsor seminars and workshops in biomedicine and provide training in the use of lasers and laser spectroscopy.
In physical science, the LRF "continues to be a driving force for developing new laser techniques for both basic and applied science," Professor Feld said. The LRF provides core support for the research of 13 faculty members in the Departments of Physics and Chemistry in four areas: novel techniques for ultrasensitive spectroscopy, light interactions with fundamental systems, photochemistry of engineered materials, and photo-inorganic and biochemical dynamics.
New LRF projects will include the use of multi-laser excitation to probe molecules in high-energy states and to study dynamics of atmospheric molecules; femtosecond lasers to study quantum dot microstructures and mechanical properties of semiconductor thin films; and Raman spectroscopy to characterize iron and platinum enzyme model systems. Other new projects will develop novel techniques based on two-dimensional spectroscopy for assigning complex molecular spectra, and study chaos in Rydberg atoms and single-atom laser emission.
Professor Jeffrey Steinfield of the Department of Chemistry and Dr. Ramachandra Dasari, principal research scientist in the laboratory, are assistant directors of the Spectroscopy Laboratory.
Core investigators are Professors Robert Field, Keith Nelson, Stephen Lippard, Toyoichi Tanaka and Mark Wrighton. Other faculty members doing research at the two resource centers are Moungi Bawendi, Nobel Laureate H. Gobind Khorana, Daniel Kleppner, David Pritchard, Alexander Rich, Robert Silbey, Joanne Stubbe, Steven Tannenbaum, John Waugh and Douglas Youvan.
A version of this article appeared in the August 25, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 3).