Light therapy potential probed in disease fight

Artists impression of light beam targeting a single blood cell Researchers hope light could be used to penetrate a cell and assess its health

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Scientists at the University of St Andrews have begun a project to develop new light technology that could improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The team will work to overcome current obstacles that limit how light penetrates a cell to assess its health.

Researchers believe the work could eventually have implications for the detection and treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer's and epilepsy.

They have been given a grant of £5.6m for the project.

Their research focuses on the science of photonics - the generation and application of light - and explores how to shape or structure light at a micro and nano scale.

The team at the university's school of physics and astronomy, led by Professor Kishan Dholakia, say the benefits of the research would not be restricted to biomedicine, but could be used in other industries.

'Excellent advances'

Professor Dholakia said: "Our new understanding and applications of light can also impact in other areas of biology and medicine such as the emergent field of optogenetics.

"Optogenetics is the science of controlling events in targeted cells using light alone, which has immense promise in relation to neuroscience, eg to understand conditions such as epilepsy and control Alzheimer's disease."

One of the key targets of the project will be imaging through scattering media, especially biological tissue and skin.

Another will be to achieve imaging with extremely high resolution, even at a distance.

Professor Dholakia added: "This grant is a testament to the excellent advances made by our team in the photonics area at St Andrews in the last decade.

"We are very excited about making ground-breaking advances both in fundamental photonics and light sources but also notably with colleagues in biology and medicine with real impact upon emerging healthcare challenges."

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