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Laser Biomedical Research Center

Peter T. C. So, Ph.D.

Center Overview

The MIT Laser Biomedical Research Center (LBRC) develops the basic scientific understanding and new techniques required for advancing the clinical applications of lasers and spectroscopy. To fulfill the significant and ever growing need for a more comprehensive and potentially non-invasive understanding of the human body, the LBRC merges optical spectroscopy, imaging, scattering, and interferometry techniques. Specifically, researchers at the LBRC study the biophysics and biochemistry of healthy and diseased biological structures from the subcellular to the entire-organ scale. For example, spectral diagnosis instruments based on near-infrared Raman scattering, intrinsic fluorescence, diffuse reflectance, and single light scattering provide complementary data on human disease. Combining these techniques into a single, multimodal instrument is applied for diagnostics in various organs, including cervix, oral cavity, Barrett's esophagus, artery, breast, skin, as well as for transcutaneous measurements of blood constituents. The LBRC has been and continues to be a pioneer in the field of developing novel optical probes for use under direct visualization or with endoscopes and biopsy devices.

A unique feature of the LBRC is its ability to form strong clinical collaborations with outside investigators in areas of common interest that further the Center's mandated research objectives. A major focus of these collaborations is to rapidly translate the novel photonic technologies introduced at the LBRC into the clinic and potentially into the field. Another focal point of the collaborations is to enable external researchers to exploit laser-based techniques for medical applications such as the spectral diagnosis of disease, investigation of biophysical and biochemical properties of cells and tissues, and development of novel imaging techniques.

Impact on Human Health

The George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory is engaged in research in the field of modern optics and spectroscopy for the purpose of furthering fundamental knowledge of atoms and molecules and pursuing advanced engineering biomedical applications. The LBRC, which forms the core of all biomedical research conducted at the G.R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory is a world-leader in the development of novel photonic and spectroscopic technologies for comprehensive explication of disease mechanisms as well as in highthroughput and real-time identification of diseases in clinic and hospitals. In particular, microscopic technologies are developed to enable studies of basic cellular processes as well as cell structure and dynamics, which are vital for estimation of disease states and their response to different drugs, both established and experimental. LBRC technologies also support the development of portable clinical instruments for optic and noninvasive diagnosis of disease such as early stage cancer detection and transcutaneous real-time glucose detection. Recent advances in this direction include the design and fabrication of the universal desktop tissue scanner for real-time tissue diagnosis and intra-operative surgical margin assessment for tumor lesions.

The LBRC has three major aims:

  1. Develop multi-modal spectroscopy technology (Raman, reflected light, fluorescence, etc.) for disease diagnosis with an emphasis on cancer;
  2. Develop non-invasive glucose sensing technology based on Raman spectroscopy; and
  3. Develop interferometry-based novel microscopy techniques for structural imaging as well as biophysical and biochemical investigations of live cells.

As an illustrative case study, several generations of multi-modal and Raman spectroscopy instruments have been deployed in clinics and hospitals including University Hospitals Case Medical Center (OH), Cleveland Clinic Foundation (OH), Boston University Medical Center (MA) and Metrowest Hospital (MA) for in vivo cancer and vulnerable plaque diagnosis and rapid biopsy specimen analysis. We have sent Raman and fluorescence units to Case Western University (OH) for breast cancer investigations and Cornell Medical Center (NY) for prostate cancer studies and are in the process of sending a Raman Unit to University of Southern California (CA) for gastric cancer studies. Importantly, going beyond biopsy specimens, next-generation instruments and customized probes such as side viewing Raman probes are being fabricated to perform in situ diagnosis during breast cancer resection surgery.