Using light and radiant energy in biology and medicine is the aim of a major new collaborative center at UC Davis. The new research effort –
the Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology – will bring together scientists, industry, educators and the community to research and develop applications for biophotonics – the science of using light to understand the inner workings of cells and tissues in living organisms.
Scientists and clinicians are using the light to image or selectively treat tumors, sequence DNA or identify single biomolecules within cells.
"Lasers have become an essential element in clinical practice in contemporary medicine and surgery," said James E. Boggan, professor of neurological surgery at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center and co-director of the new center.
"The development of new medical laser technologies and techniques offers tremendous opportunities to improve the practice of medicine, from developing better sutures to treating osteoporosis," Boggan said.
One of the goals of the center is to develop new technology that enables scientists and physicians to see what takes place in living cells and how the different components function in real time.
"If I want to see a single molecule or understand how it functions inside a cell, I don't have the technology to do that right now," said Dennis Matthews, director of the new center and an expert on lasers and optics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
"Through the power of biophotonics and some of the new technologies that we're developing, we will be able to see the cell while it's living, talking and interacting with other cells around it," Matthews said.
Physicians and scientists at UC Davis and LLNL are already testing new microscopes that can more clearly distinguish cancerous and healthy tissue. Plans are under way to develop a hand-held pathogen detection unit to immediately identify the presence of potentially infectious agents, from anthrax to smallpox.
UC Davis will be the West Coast hub for biophotonics research that business partners can use to make new, leading-edge medical devices.
"NSF Science and Technology Centers are very prestigious, but most importantly, they spur research, technology development, education and industry around them," Matthews said. "UC Davis and the Sacramento area are destined to become an important BioZone, a biotech industry and research Mecca."
The center brings together roughly 100 researchers. Other center members include UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Stanford University, Alabama A&M University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Hampton University, Fisk University and Louisiana State University.
It is the only NSF-funded center in the country that will focus on this area of research. The center's funding includes $40 million from the NSF over 10 years plus $12 million in matching funds from federal and state grants and private funding.