Professor Laura Marcu is founding director and Griff Harsh will be deputy director and training lead for the NCIBT

NIH Grant Creates National Center at UC Davis - NCIBT

Light-Based, AI Technologies Could Transform Interventional Health Care

Written by Sarah Colwell

The National Center for Interventional Biophotonic Technologies, or NCIBT, stands to transform surgical procedures and brain monitoring on a national scale using light-based, artificial intelligence-informed technologies will soon be part of Aggie Square at the University of California, Davis. Thanks to a recent $6.3 million P41 grant from NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.  

NCIBT will advance two optical imaging technologies developed at UC Davis — interventional fluorescence lifetime imaging, or iFLIM, and interferometric diffuse optical spectroscopy, or iDOS — and combine them with an AI-deep learning platform to provide real-time guidance of decision-making during medical and surgical procedures. The center will support research and development, clinical application, and training and education of the new technologies and promote their adoption to improve the quality of interventional health care. 

“We are developing a new technological paradigm for surgical and interventional medical decision-making,” said Laura Marcu, founding director of NCIBT and professor in the UC Davis College of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. “This technology will help surgeons and other physicians make decisions in real time by assessing the local tissue’s constituents, physiology and pathology, and integrating this imaging data with preoperative and other intraoperative imaging data and information from a patient’s history, to optimize the procedure.”

The grant will also support the establishment of a physical center at UC Davis’ Aggie Square. This will include state-of-the-art laboratories, teaching space, learning centers and the organizational headquarters of the center’s training and education programs. 

“Aggie Square supports advancements of biomedical technologies and close collaborations among engineers, clinician-scientists and industry. These promote development of clinically useful tools and dissemination of these discoveries and tools through teaching, training and commercialization,” said Griff Harsh, professor and chair of neurological surgery at UC Davis Health, and deputy director and training leader of NCIBT. “We believe that the NCIBT embodies the mission and vision of Aggie Square.”

Recognizes engineer leaders, clinical collaborators 

The highly competitive P41 grant is one of the NIH-NIBIB’s primary means for supporting the development and clinical application of very promising technologies in optical imaging and engineering. It recognizes the efforts and potential of highly productive teams of scientists who are leaders in their fields, and promotes clinical collaborations for developing, testing and disseminating imaging technologies that will positively impact human health. 

“Decision-making about how extensive surgery must be to completely remove tumors relies heavily on the surgeon’s experience, and sometimes requires repetitive and time-consuming lab analysis of tissue around the cancer to make sure all the tumor is gone,” said David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health and a fellow of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “This new national center will build on strengths unique to UC Davis’ School of Medicine and College of Engineering, developing new optical tools to help surgeons everywhere more often provide complete cures for their patients.”

The scale and collaborative nature of the proposal led the team to enlist help from the Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives division in the UC Davis Office of Research in organizing the team and preparing a successful proposal. That support included hosting multiple workshops, coordinating collaborations with partner institutions, developing the proposal and preparing for the sponsor’s site visit. 

In being selected, UC Davis joins an elite cohort of two dozen institutions in the country with a P41 center, which are supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineeringor NIBIB. Other universities include Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University School of Medicine. The P41 grant has an initial five-year term and is potentially renewable for a total of 15 years. These P41 grants historically have engendered numerous other NIH grants for further development and applications of a center’s technologies.

According to NIBIB Director Bruce J. Tromberg, the UC Davis P41 center has the potential to rapidly advance optical imaging technologies that use AI-informed instruments. Such technologies could have a significant impact on the management of common afflictions, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, trauma, infection and degenerative diseases. Tromberg also noted the center’s opportunity to both collaborate on a wide range of research projects and eventually translate its discoveries into clinical applications. 

“The NCIBT provides a unique opportunity, with its outstanding team of lead investigators at UC Davis and national network of engineers and clinician-scientists, to develop and validate a series of game-changing technologies, while expanding their use and impact through collaborative research, training and commercialization,” Tromberg said. “This effort could bring about significant improvements in patient outcomes, as well as improved access to life-saving surgical procedures.”

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