Physics professor Brett Pearson eyes clearer view through multiphoton microscopy
by Bill Sulon
March 9, 2010
Brett Pearson, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, with the laser to be used in a multiphoton-microscopy-imaging system he and fellow researchers hope will yield more efficient ways to study abnormal cellular activity.
Medical experts are always looking for better ways to detect diseases and the abnormal cellular activity that often causes them.
Brett Pearson, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, hopes a shaped-pulse multiphoton-imaging system he’s developing with collaborators will lead to faster and better ways to help those experts find cures for cancer and other diseases.
Pearson, working with professors from Yale University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, as well as with Dickinson students, said the system features an ultrafast laser that should provide faster and clearer images of cells than can be obtained with other viewing methods.
Their imaging approach is based on multiphoton microscopy, which uses short, near-infrared laser pulses to illuminate a sample. Multiphoton microscopy has several advantages over traditional ultraviolet-based microscopy. Light is absorbed only at the focus of the microscope, which prevents damage to other cells in the sample. (The absorption of light—especially ultraviolet light—can damage cells). Only the tiny portion of a sample, and not the entire sample, absorbs the light, resulting in a clearer image.
“The unique nature of our research is the shaping of the pulse,” said Pearson. “Different functions within a cell are often tracked using different fluorescent indicators, or targets within the cell that can be imaged. Shaping the pulse should allow us to rapidly image cells containing multiple fluorescent indicators.”
Preliminary work in a lab across from Pearson’s office in the Rector Science Complex includes an ultrafast laser system that will serve as the light source for the microscope. Pearson said the research could take years before conclusive data are ready for publication. He and his fellow researchers recently applied to the National Institutes of Health for $600,000 in grants to pursue their work.