Mark Niedre, assis­tant pro­fessor of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, has been awarded a four-​​year, $1.3 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tute of Bio­med­ical Imaging and Bio­engi­neering to develop a high-​​resolution flu­o­res­cence imaging system that could help researchers study the pro­gres­sion of dis­eases and the effi­cacy of their treatment.

Niedre will lead a team of researchers including Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering pro­fessor Dana Brooks, an expert in bio­med­ical image pro­cessing and Har­vard Med­ical School pro­fessor Bakhos Tan­nous, an expert in brain-​​tumor biology.

The major goal of research will be to develop an imaging system that has improved res­o­lu­tion com­pared to cur­rent sys­tems, as well as to give researchers the ability to image an array of bio-​​molecular tar­gets simultaneously.

Three-​​dimensional laser imaging of ani­mals is cur­rently used as a tech­nique for studying dis­ease biology, but the quality of the images is lim­ited by the fact that light scat­ters strongly in bio­log­ical tissue, essen­tially blur­ring the image.

Niedre pro­poses to address the problem using high tech­nology, ultra-​​fast lasers com­bined with a tech­nique known as time gating to help remove this scatter and improve the image.

Over­coming the second challenge—visualizing mul­tiple mol­e­c­ular targets—is espe­cially crit­ical to helping researchers get a com­plete pic­ture of how a dis­ease like cancer pro­gresses and how it responds to new drugs and other therapies.

In a flu­o­res­cent imaging system, researchers can “see” the genes and mol­e­cules they are inter­ested in studying using flu­o­res­cent labeling. When excited by laser light, labeled tar­gets re-​​emit light in a second color that the researchers can detect, but cur­rent tech­nology allows them to image only one or two tar­gets at a time. Niedre and his team hope to develop tech­nology to study five or more tar­gets at once in a live animal.

We really want to tackle the problem of high-​​throughput imaging,” noted Niedre. “The idea is that you can look at an array of four or five mol­e­cules that will help you under­stand how cancer develops, spreads, or responds to a new treatment.

It is impor­tant to study these processes in live ani­mals, since the sit­u­a­tion is much more com­plex than, say, just looking at cells in culture.”

The team will first use the new imaging system to study the devel­op­ment and pro­gres­sion of brain tumors and other can­cers in mice, which could lead to improved treat­ments in humans. The system could also be used to study how dis­ease responds to new ther­a­peutic drugs, which could help researchers to opti­mize new clin­ical therapies.