Observe living cells
Prof. Dr. Neu, Hochschule Emden / Leer
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu studied at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and earned his doctor's degree at the European Nuclear Research Center CERN in Geneva. Dr. Neu was, among other things, co-founder of the ""Medical Center for Laser and Minimally Invasive Therapy at the University of Göttingen"". He has been a professor at the University of Emden since 1994. His specialist fields are laser applications and nanotechnologies.
1. At the beginning of the year, your research project “Orts- und zeitaufgelöste Elementar- und Molekularanalyse - Optische Mikrospektroskopie” [Space and time-resolved elementary and molecular analysis - optical microspectroscopy] was chosen for a research professorship by the Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony and the Volkswagen Foundation. What is your project about?
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu: The core of the research professorship is application-focused research and development of optical spectroscopy and microscopy methods to investigate heavy metal contamination in biological samples and as an imaging process with direct molecular contrast on individual cells, subcellular structures, cell cultures, and biological samples.
The link between and addition to various elementary analytical and molecular spectroscopic techniques, such as the combination of laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and Raman microscopy enables complementary investigation of the atomic and molecular properties of organic and inorganic samples.
The aim is to investigate intracellular physiological processes, intercellular communication channels, and growth processes of complete cell clusters in vivo. For example, in cell culture technology, the focus is on identifying molecular substances to recognize cell apoptosis at an early stage.
The examination of the dynamic processes occurring in the cellular tissue as space and time resolved expression studies of the living cells is the key technology to understand the insights into the interplay of genomic data and its expression during the course of cell development.
Raman spectroscopy supplements confocal microscopy as a molecular-specific analysis method. The higher molecular selectivity of the method is based on the vibration and rotation spectrum of the molecules to be investigated and, therefore, requires no labeling as with fluorescence microscopy. Consequently, individual cells, cell clusters, microorganisms, and bacteria can be characterized under native conditions.
2. Is this type of microscopy used already?
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu: In the field of high-resolution microscopy of biological samples there are various competing measurement systems, each of which is a marked improvement compared to traditional systems.
For in-vivo investigations of intracellular processes and the development of cell clusters and cell communication, in terms of sample volume and parallel data capturing, there are few alternatives to the innovative confocal 4D technology that was developed in my working group.
The presentation of biological cells and cell-physiological processes is based on multifocal microscopy with DMD technology (DMD: Digital Mirror Device). Using a digital micro mirror array, it is possible to investigate biological objects quickly and with high space (3D) and time (4D) resolution.
Over the last years, the large number of invitations to make presentations at international conferences, symposia, and to industrial partners shows the high level of interest in the newly developed multifocal 4D-DMD microscopy technology and optical spectroscopy for trace analysis and biological analysis using laser-induced plasma.
Applied to large volumes of living cell clusters, it has received a lot of attention from experts at international conferences and has opened up opportunities for international cooperation projects.
For example, one of these opportunities is with the Center for Biophotonics at the University of California, Davis, CA, where the main focus is on investigating viral infection processes. This is reinforced by the option of a modular extension for molecule-specific spectroscopy at higher speeds and with diffraction limited resolution.
3. As well as microscopy, you are also involved with the use of lasers in medical applications. What advantages does a laser beam have over a conventional scalpel?
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu: Laser beams can separate tissue, in other words, can cut like a conventional scalpel, but they also coagulate blood and lymph vessels and thus prevent cell carryover. Especially when surgery is being performed on cancer tumors, the risk of metastasis can be practically ruled out.
As opposed to scalpels, laser beams do not have to be re-sharpened and since no tactile touch is needed, this is automatically an aseptic process. The operation area remains blood free and the surgeon's view is not impaired. Microsurgery with short-pulse lasers literally enables micrometer-precise tissue removal, even with no adverse effects on the transparency of the cornea.
4. Recently, during a series of lectures on the subject of optical technologies in medical engineering, you held a speech in front of medical practitioners on the topic of minimally invasive laser therapy. In general, how great is the interest in these new technologies?
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu: There is certainly a lot of interest in these technologies. On the one hand, minimally invasive therapies improve the precision of the procedure, reduce scarring and complications in operations and thus contribute towards a faster and more patient friendly healing process.
The shorter convalescence phase is also positive in economic terms.
5. What can we expect to see in terms of developments in biophotonics in the coming years?
Prof. Dr. Walter Neu: As a field of research, biophotonics will continue to develop rapidly over the next years and will increasingly supplement medical and biological diagnostics. High performance, compact, and reliable laser systems can be integrated into medical practitioners' toolsets and already extend the scope for treatment through endoscopy and with controllable applicators. In combination with optical sensor technology and spectroscopy 'smart laser systems' can recognize diseased tissue and remove it specifically without damaging healthy tissue.
Microscopic diagnosis and differentiated investigation of cell-physiological processes pave the way for individualized pharmacology and oncology on the road to molecular medicine. Label-free molecular imaging is a key technology to which my working group will contribute within the scope of the research professorship.