September R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month we have a Web site and an iPhone app to monitor disease outbreaks, a frequency converter that enables ultra-high sensitivity IR spectrometry, and a new chemical imaging technique that could allow physicians to identify the type of lesions found in a patient's arteries.

A New Tool to Stay Disease-Free
If you're a hypochondriac, stop reading now. If you aren't a hypochondriac and are, instead, interested in seeing who's sick and with what (in terms of infectious diseases, anyway), a collaboration between Boston's Children's Hospital and MIT's Media Lab now makes this information available to you via an iPhone app. The Outbreaks Near Me app builds on the earlier HealthMap Global Disease Alert Map Web site; both collect publicly available information ranging from official disease alerts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other public health entities to news stories and personal reports. These data points are then plotted on a map. The iPhone app also has the ability to receive targeted alerts and to submit your own local outbreak information. The news article from Children's Hospital "New iPhone app "Outbreaks Near Me" locates H1N1 (swine flu), infectious diseases" has more detail on the project.

Ultra-High Sensitivity IR Spectrometry
NIST researchers Lijun Ma, Oliver Slattery, and Xiao Tang, have developed a technique for measuring light in the near-infrared (NIR) range that offers both high sensitivity and a lower price tag. Using an approach originally developed for quantum cryptography applications, the technique up-coverts photons from one frequency to a higher frequency. When applied to NIR light, the technique involves using a narrow-band pulse laser to bump those NIR photons with the desired wavelength and polarization up into the visible spectrum, where they can be detected using commercially available avalanche photodiodes. More detail is available in the NIST news article, "Up-Scale: Frequency Converter Enables Ultra-High Sensitivity Infrared Spectrometry."

Imaging for Artherosclerosis
Not all hardened arteries are created equal. Depending on the chemical composition of lesions on the artery walls caused by artherosclerosis, patients can run a greater or lesser risk of an artery rupture (with resulting heart attack or strokes). If the lesions are rich in cholesteryl ester they're more likely to rupture but how to assess which lesions fit this profile? Researchers at the Imperial College London's Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology, headed by Professor Sergei Kazarian, have developed a new imaging technique—Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopic Imaging (ATR-FTIR imaging)—that, when coupled with fiber-optics, could enable doctors to assess in real-time the chemical composition of a patient's arterial lesions, something that currently requires a biopsy. IR light is used to identify different chemical molecules and mapped to an array detector to produce a "chemical photograph" of the lesion. To quote from the Science Daily news article, "New Chemical Imaging Technique Could Help In Fight Against Atherosclerosis, Suggests Research," "In the present study, the researchers demonstrated that ATR-FTIR imaging was able to reveal the precise composition and size of the lesions and the levels of elastin, collagen and cholesteryl ester in them."

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