Bio-optics Breakthroughs Conference to Be Held in San Jose

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | September 30, 2009

The technique is similar to ultrasound imaging, but produces higher resolution images using optical frequencies. The researchers have demonstrated that they can image the heart in those earliest stages as it first starts to beat and forms chambers. Their hope is to now use this tool to compare how hearts develop in genetically manipulated mice carrying mutations analogous to those that lead to birth defects in people. (Paper FthV2, "Early Mammalian Embryonic Imaging at Different Developmental Stages with Optical Coherence Tomography" is at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15).


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Babies born prematurely often find it difficult to breathe on their own. They may require intubation, the insertion of a tube through the nose or mouth into the still-developing lungs to move air in and out. Intubation in adults has a reasonable success rate--upwards of 80 or 90 percent--but only about half of first attempts to insert the tube succeed in low-birth-weight babies.

"The size is different and the anatomy is different in infants," says Katherine Baker of the University of California, San Diego. Baker is working with pediatricians at the university's medical center to create a new piece of equipment suitable for infants, a optical coherence tomography (OCT),

The group has successfully tested a prototype on a mannequin and is working to create a second version suitable for testing in clinical trials. (Paper FthP3, "Design and Prototype Fabrication of a Neonatal Video Laryngoscope" is at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15).


Targeting living cells with laser pulses has been a powerful technique in biology for a number of years. Lasers can punch holes in cell membranes or cut one part of a cell off from another, revealing how the various pieces of a cell function. In recent years, neurobiologists have begun embracing precise laser nanosurgery as a way of revealing the function of individual neurons. Short but powerful laser pulses can deposit considerable energy onto a tiny spot, cleanly cutting a nerve cell without cooking the surrounding tissue. By severing the branches of nerve fibers in creatures like worms or mice, scientists can determine what parts of the body those nerves control.

Eric Mazur of Harvard University will describe how laser nanosurgery works, based on his own studies of the worm-like nematode C. elegans. One nematode in particular has a genetic mutation that renders it unable to coordinate its movement. It can wiggle, but it cannot easily move forward or backward. Mazur and his colleagues have shown that they can restore normal motion to this creature by cutting a single neuron. (Paper FWA1, "Nanosurgery with Femtosecond Lasers" is at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12).