Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., director of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic since 2003 and professor of biomedical engineering and surgery at the University of California, Irvine, has been chosen by the National Institutes of Health to head the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
The Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic (BLIMC) held its 30th anniversary, “Multiple Reflections,” on February 9, 2017. The event celebrated the Institute’s past achievements, present accomplishments and future discoveries.
In 1982, Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, provided the original financial gift to create the BLIMC as an interdisciplinary center at UCI for the development and application of optical technologies in biology and medicine. He liked to donate money in the form of matching grants, challenging recipients to be as invested as he was in the venture. At the celebration, BLIMC co-founder
Dr. Michael Berns recounted his experiences with Dr. Beckman and their shared vision to create one of the first interdisciplinary medical laser institutes in the world. Together,
Drs. Berns and Beckman raised funds to build the original building, which opened in 1986.
Over the past 30 years, the BLIMC has played a key role in helping drive the growth of optics and photonics in biology and medicine. Director Dr. Bruce Tromberg summarized the history of this expansion that has helped fuel the development of “Biophotonics and Biomedical Optics,” a new discipline that is now well-represented in academic and industry programs around the world. However, according to Tromberg, we are only scratching the surface. Innovations in optics and photonics technologies combined with health care economic pressures are creating important new opportunities that will allow us to “embark on a path forward over the next 30 years that is as bold and visionary as the founding of the Institute.”
UCI Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Enrique Lavernia announced the “Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative (COSI),” an $8 million UCI investment in optics and photonics. “Our goal is to create exciting new opportunities with a broader impact on scientific discovery and human health,” said Lavernia. COSI will partner BLIMC with the schools of Engineering, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Medicine, in collaboration with UCI Applied Innovation. Over the next five years, COSI will hire at least five new faculty and create a dedicated space for academic/industry collaboration and engagement. The first COSI hire is Dr. Chris Barty, professor of Physics and Astronomy, who is a pioneer in advanced laser light source technologies. Barty, who joined UCI and the BLIMC on July 1, 2017 has already launched Lumitron Technology Inc., a new venture that will commercialize his discoveries.
According to Provost Lavernia, “COSI-generated photonics expertise will benefit UCI programs, such as the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, as well as further innovation and commercialization in cardiology, neurology, cancer, and sports medicine. It will draw people who are developing revolutionary new light sources and imaging technologies, innovators who are creating new methods and technologies to find and cure disease, and entrepreneurs who will accelerate the translation and impact of our work via commercialization. We believe this is a powerful strategic approach for UCI to build new human and intellectual capital that will substantially strengthen our region.”
Could biophotonics prevent disease?
“The ability to fashion ways to better diagnose and treat diseases that have gone on without adequate interventional options is an area where I think the intersection between photonics and medicine is going to have an impact,” said vice chancellor for health affairs and CEO of the UCI Health System, Dr. Howard J. Federoff. “This is increasingly clear as we understand more about the etiology or underlying basis of disease.” According to Federoff, the potential is to develop non-invasive, low-cost screening technologies to detect diseases pre-clinically, before a doctor sees them. Federoff cited screening for microscopic melanoma before it comes to clinical attention and using near-infrared light for non-invasive brain imaging. “I think this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” said Federoff.
According to Dr. Pramod P. Khargonekar, UCI vice chancellor for research, convergence can lead to breakthroughs when engineers, chemists, and physicists collaborate with biologists and practicing physicians. Optics, photonics and imaging technologies could have tremendous impact on cancer, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. “We still think of therapies and diagnostics, but I can imagine a future using these non-invasive techniques of photonics and optics,” said Khargonekar. “You could detect initiation of disease and use that to take steps to prevent full-blown occurrence. That would be an amazing breakthrough.”
Reshaping noses, preserving brain function and building artificial pancreases
Attendees toured 17 interactive technology demonstrations featuring unique inventions by BLIMC faculty. For example, researchers in the lab of Dr. Brian Wong, professor of Otolaryngology, Biomedical Engineering (BME), and Surgery, showed how bioelectric technologies combined with biophotonic imaging could lead to new minimally-invasive surgical approaches for repairing and remodeling cartilage, tendon, ligament, skin, and fat.
The lab of Dr. Elliot Botvinick, associate professor of BME and Surgery, is developing an artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetics. Their innovative approach will provide patients with implantable scaffolds that house pancreatic islet cells combined with oxygen-sensing microparticles. Optical sensing of microparticle activity is used to monitor oxygen levels and blood vessel growth. “It is like building the house first, and then moving in,” said researcher Dr. John Weidling. Rachel Gurlin, a graduate student, has just published her first paper on the new approach. Her sister has type 1 diabetes. “I cannot imagine studying anything else,” said Gurlin.
The multiplier effect of COSI
“If you think about the fundamental technology that BLIMC has embraced and leverages every day, it not only has benefit for patient outcomes, but it also has implications in other fields,” said Bob Phillippy, former CEO of Newport-Spectra Physics Corporation. “The technologies that are used to create consumer devices can also create medical devices. Behind it all is photonic technology and it is the fundamental nature of light being behind the scenes, in many cases, ubiquitously deployed, to be able to do the work faster. You hear the speed of light. Literally. Harnessing that technology and leveraging its capabilities is something that is really significant…and (potentially) world changing.”
“We already have seen the incredible trajectories and impressive impact of BLIMC-generated technologies on the local healthcare economy,” said chief innovation officer and executive director of UCI Applied Innovation, Dr. Richard Sudek. “Orange County has over 300 medical device companies that depend on innovation as their lifeblood. It is our mission to get these technologies from the lab to commercialization. We bridge that last step—implementation—by supporting BLIMC researchers and fostering the networks of entrepreneurship: partnerships, licensing, and industry-sponsored research with companies and researchers. As COSI accelerates the rate of innovation generation, we are partnering with the BLIMC to ensure that more of these promising technologies get to market.”
Excerpts from Cove TechCurrents,
by Wendy Wolfson.
“We are in a renaissance in light source technology,” stated Dr. Chris Barty, who joined UCI and the BLIMC as professor of Physics and Astronomy in July. And “Renaissance Man,” is one way to describe Barty.
With Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in applied physics from Stanford University and B.S. degrees, each with honors, in chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering from North Carolina State University, Barty joined UCI after serving as the chief technology officer for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Photon Science Directorate. Prior to that he was the founder and director of the mission-based Photon Science and Applications program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
At LLNL, Barty helped manage and guide the technical evolution of the world’s highest-energy and largest laser within the NIF – a laser the size of a football stadium. He also played key roles in the development of ultrahigh intensity laser science, laser inertial fusion energy and laser defense activities at LLNL. For more than a decade, Barty has also pioneered laser-Compton technology, an extremely bright, x-ray and gamma-ray light source that can be created with short-pulse lasers and energetic electron beams. In the gamma-ray spectral region, the peak brightness of a laser-Compton light source pulse can be 15 orders of magnitude beyond any other man-made light, making it possible to access and manipulate the nucleus of an atom with photons, an emerging field known as “nuclear photonics.” These highly mono-energetic gamma-ray sources produce narrow, laser-like beams of incoherent gamma rays that can penetrate through lead and other thick containers and can be tuned to a specific energy so they predominately interact with only one kind of material.
“In the early days of lasers, the controlled manipulation of the outermost electron structure of the atom became possible, leading to a wide variety of new applications and science that now impacts many, many aspects of our daily lives,” stated Barty. “Similarly, laser-Compton gamma-ray sources are now enabling ‘nuclear photonics,’ or the photon-based manipulation of proton motion within the nucleus, and thus are leading to new applications and science including the isotope-specific detection of materials for security and advanced medical imaging, and enable novel forms of discovery-class, nuclear spectroscopy.” Since Barty first coined the term “nuclear photonics” in 2008, the related international community has grown rapidly and now includes more than $500 million of activities and a major biennial conference by the same name.
“[At LLNL] We constructed a proof-of-principle laser-Compton machine and used its photons to detect the presence of lithium concealed behind aluminum and lead,” shared Barty. “The machine created a record peak brilliance. It used an existing linear accelerator and custom laser systems designed specifically for laser-based Compton scattering x-ray and gamma-ray sources.”
Barty’s patented laser-Compton technology is now being transferred to industry, and is the foundation behind a new company, Lumitron Technology, Inc., which he helped launch and which will be headquartered in the University Research Park adjacent to campus. As the lead hire in the Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative (COSI), he will concentrate his efforts on building the world’s highest output, tunable, mono-energetic, compact, x-ray light source based on laser-Compton scattering. “My focus will not only be to establish laser-Compton systems as the ‘gold standard’ for imaging and therapy, but also to target a broad ecosystem of new science and technology across a range of industrial, commercial and healthcare applications.”
“When I look here [at UCI], I see the grand vision. BLIMC completely gets the story where academic and industrial activities are encouraged which doesn’t happen everywhere,” stated Barty.
“We are pushing the frontier of basic science and engineering. Laser-Compton technology will enable the location, study and treatment of disease in ways not previously possible. We have a tremendous opportunity to change healthcare and make a real impact on medicine. The unique x-ray capabilities of compact, laser-Compton sources will also play a pivotal role in materials science, micro-fabrication, and the rapid emergence of additive manufacturing.”
Modulated Imaging, Inc. (MI, Inc.) received clearance from the Federal Drug Association (FDA) for its Ox-Imager CS system. This is the first technology developed by a company founded in the Photonic Incubator of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic (BLIMC) to be cleared by the FDA. According to UCI alum Dr. David Cuccia, MI, Inc. CEO/CTO, this device is expected to assist clinicians with the identification of lower limb vascular issues, leading to patients receiving more appropriate and timely treatment. With FDA clearance MI, Inc. is now in the process of launching the system at clinics throughout the country.
“This FDA clearance is a major milestone for our company and for the patients and physicians within the vascular treatment communities,” said Cuccia. “Ox-Imager can lead to significant preventive care actions, as well as an estimated potential $6.2 billion in savings per year. We’re proud to be able to provide meaningful information that advances patients’ health and wellness.”
At age 22, Austin Russell, a former BLIMC high-school independent researcher, launched Luminar Technologies, Inc. The company recently announced that it is partnering with the Toyota Research Institute to advance self-driving car technology. Russell, CEO of Luminar Technologies Inc., developed an advanced laser lidar sensor system that detects a car’s surroundings in high-definition 3D, paving the way for self-driving cars to “actually work and be safe.”
For Russell, being a pioneer meant having the patience to build a better lidar system that would not only advance the industry, but do it in a field that could save people’s lives. “We’re able to see seven seconds out instead of one second,” Russell shared with Business Insider, “That’s a really big breakthrough.”
Russell, a gifted student, memorized the periodic table by age four and transformed a Nintendo gaming headset into a cell phone by the sixth grade. He first conceptualized and designed augmented reality and wireless power transmission projects during his last two years of high school, working as an independent researcher in the Tromberg lab at the BLIMC.
“Our plan is to power every autonomous vehicle that’s produced and make them so they can truly be safe and autonomous,” Russell said of his future vision. As he stated on Bloomberg.com, “You would push yourself to the limit at least ultimately. That’s what you have to do if you want to make an impact on the world.”
Article adapted from, “Toyota is trusting a startup for a crucial part of its newest self-driving cars” by Johana Bhuiyan on Recode.com; “Meet the 22-year-old college dropout who wants to power every future self-driving car,” by Biz Carson in Business Insider and, “The 22-year-old at the center of the self-driving car craze,” by Alex Webb, Lizette Chapman and Alex Barinka on Bloomberg.com.