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Summer Research Program 2024

The Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center  (VBC) is launching its second summer research program in 2024 and will be bringing students to campus to work closely with VBC faculty on biophotonics-related research projects. The paid 10-week program will provide undergraduates with the opportunity to have first-hand research experience in laboratory research. 

Application details can be found on the program homepage here. Additional information is also provided in the FAQs page that can be accessed here.

Insights on the program from program alumni can be found here.

Sample Project Descriptions

  1. Our lab has been working on understanding and applying pulsed infrared light to modulate various neural cell types (e.g. neurons, astrocytes, microglia). Recent findings suggest that the effects that pulsed infrared light has on neural cell function can also play a major role in T-cell activation towards immune response. Optical tools to precisely modulate the immune system function spatially could prove useful in studying the immune system, its dysfunction, and in clinical applications towards treating inflammation, infection, and pain. This project will focus on utilizing cell culture, pharmacology, high-speed fluorescence imaging and advanced image analysis to explore how pulsed infrared light can directly modulate T-cell function.

  2. Rodents are ideal models for studying disease pathogenesis and response to genetic and pharmacological perturbation in the eye. Optical imaging methods enable noninvasive cellular-resolution visualization of tissue structure and function. We will develop a multimodality optical imaging system that provides simultaneous fluorescence and reflectance contrast of retina microstructure and function. Complementary contrast from these modalities will enable real-time image-guided delivery of gene and stem-cell therapies in mouse models of retinal disease and longitudinal tracking of physiological response.

  3. The incidence of diabetic retinopathy (retinal damage due to diabetes) has increased significant in recent years. Early diagnostics and therapeutic guidance is currently limited by the ability to visualize changes in retinal vascular perfusion at the retinal periphery. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) enables noninvasive volumetric imaging of surface and subsurface tissue structures with micron-resolution and has become the “gold standard” for ophthalmic imaging and diagnostics. However, the field-of-view of conventional OCT is limited, and multi-volumetric mosaicking of OCT data is required to access the retinal periphery. Novel image-processing algorithms will be developed to identify corresponding fiducials and perform nonlinear registration on overlapping OCT volumes.  

  4. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a noninvasive imaging technology that is analogous to ultrasound with light. Applications of OCT imaging have predominately focused on structural imaging of surface and subsurface features with micron resolution. However, OCT can also be applied to quantitatively image perfusion, and we will leverage functional OCT imaging to assess lymphatic function in animal models.

  5. Preterm infants are at increased risk for patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), which results in reversal of blood flow in the descending aorta during diastole. When prolonged, this condition has been shown to be associated with neonatal morbidity and mortality. The standard for confirming PDA is echocardiography, and various treatment measures are employed with a final resort being surgery. There is a need to monitor an infant's response to treatment so as to allow timely decision making on whether to change treatment methods. Echocardiography requires skilled personnel and cannot be used as a monitoring tool. Laser speckle contrast imaging (LSCI) is a technique that is sensitive to superficial blood flow. We hypothesize that PDA, while primarily affecting the ductus, will also result in changes to superficial perfusion. This project will involve developing an LSCI device for monitoring treatment of infants with PDA.

  6. Identifying biomarkers for embryo viability: Infertility affects more than 1 in 10 American couples; current assisted reproductive treatments like in vitro fertilization are costly and have low success rates. In this project, we are using label-free imaging techniques like optical coherence tomography to identify potential biomarkers for viability that will improve fertility outcomes.

  7. Low-cost and portable diagnosis for diabetic eye disease: Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. In this project, we are developing a technology to facilitate low-cost and portable comprehensive eye exams that can be implemented at local clinics via tele-medicine.

  8. Portable brain imaging: Functional near-infrared imaging is a powerful tool for assessing cognitive function, but existing systems are bulky and costly, which prevents large-scale studies and studies of populations like children. In this project, we are developing a low-cost, portable fNIR system to enable novel studies in children with behavior disorders.

  9. Investigating photon propagation in various tissue sample models including processing experimental data.

  10. Assist in developing a quantitative metric for temperature based assessments of cardiovascular system operation using thermal camera images, in order for the metric to be used for diagnostic purposes.