Laura and equipment

Marcu Lab Receives Grant from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for Interventional Cardiology

Research in Laura Marcu’s laboratory promotes better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of human diseases through advancements in biophotonics technology – a field at the interface of physical sciences, engineering, biology, and medicine.  

They have received their third National Institutes for Health grant for continuing work on the clinical applications of fluorescent lifetime imaging (FLIm) for diagnostic and surgical purposes.  

This R01 grant for nearly $3.5 million dollars is for interventional cardiology and from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) while the other two were from the National Cancer Institute and focused on image-guided surgical oncology. 

“This is an opportunity to scale up the fluorescence lifetime imaging platform technology that we’re developing for intraoperative clinical use and advance new intracoronary catheter systems combining FLIm with Polarization Sensitive Optical Coherent Tomography (PSOCT),” says Marcu.   

FLIm combined with PSOCT will allow interventional cardiologists to examine both the composition and the morphology of plaques in patients’ arteries and determine how likely they are to lead to plaque rupture or other major cardiac events and inform treatment decisions. “Almost everyone seems to be at risk for atherosclerosis,” she says. “Atherosclerosis and its complications remains the number one cause of death for both men and women worldwide -  so this technology can help a lot of people.”   

The imaging catheter is also useful for the positioning of stents during catheterization procedures, for assessing the functional properties of a patient’s coronary arteries, and for better observing and understanding how different patients’ respond to different therapies.  

“As engineers, researching major health issues like atherosclerosis by developing novel imaging devices that are able to visualize previously unseen biochemical features of coronary lesions is very rewarding,” said Julien Bec, one of the researchers who worked on the project.  

Marcu’s lab collaborates with various clinical departments, including Dr. Jeffrey Southard, an interventional cardiologist at UCD’s medical school, and Dr. Brett Bouma of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The FLIm technique is also effective in the operating room because of its high accuracy and sensitivity. A pen-like probe can be used by surgeons to evaluate the cancer margins and potential infiltration in healthy tissue at the time of surgical procedure. The FLIm technology developed in Marcu lab takes advantage of molecules already present in the human body that naturally fluoresce, such as collagen, enzyme co-factors responsible for cellular metabolism, or lipids, so no contrast dye has to be injected. It’s safer and easier than dye-based imaging and less expensive than MRI technology. And, it can filter out the bright lights of most surgical settings that often interfere with fluorescent imaging.  

Cancer surgeons, particularly those treating head, neck, breast and brain cancer, also could be able to use FLIm for diagnostics and to more accurately remove tumors. “Surgeons plan an operation with static images, but also need real-time visual guidance. FLIm would let them identify the extent of the tumor and its margins and cut only where needed.” This would lead to less invasive cancer surgeries and shorter and easier recovery times for cancer patients and could become the state of the art for cancer treatment.   

Marcu says that FLIm technology will be adopted clinically when she can demonstrate that it’s working or demonstrate added clinical value, which should be sometime within the next five years. FLIm should be affordable for most hospitals, at an estimated maximum of $100K per device. Right now researchers in her lab are comparing the accuracy of the images from FLIm with those from traditional biopsies and creating a set of guidelines future clinicians can use to interpret FLIm data.   

She is happy to work within UC Davis’ department of biomedical engineering and to collaborate with UC Davis’ medical center. “This environment has allowed me to do this research, and it’s a beautiful campus. I’m glad to have the opportunity to translate the work I’ve done in basic research into translational medicine.”