Keeping a closer eye on non-invasive microscopic bio-imaging
An EU-funded project has created an ERA Chair to improve research management in the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, where a new research group is developing an innovative optical-imaging method for biomedical applications, such as the diagnosis of eye diseases.
© Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland 2016
The EU-funded CREATE project is supporting the introduction of a fundamental change in the research agenda of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC). In particular, the project has created an ERA Chair for a distinguished scientist whose work is aimed at extending the IPCs research into a new field where physical chemistry meets biological systems. Professor Maciej Wojtkowski, a specialist in biomedical imagining, was awarded the ERA Chair after winning an international open competition. The project enabled the establishment of the new physical optics and biophotonics (POB) research group, led by Wojtkowski. The group comprises experts in spectroscopy, biophysics, theoretical physics, optical engineering, automation and informatics.
Implementation of the interdisciplinary approach is allowing not only the development of new studies on imaging techniques with medical diagnostics applications, but also encourages and involves other IPC research groups in this research, says Wojtkowski.
The POB group is developing a new optical-imaging method bringing researchers closer to non-invasive microscopic imaging of cells embedded in the tissues of living organisms. By smart use of the amplitude and phase of light, combined with advanced computational techniques, it is possible to create volumetric reconstructions of living tissue within a fraction of a second, he continues.
Focus on eye diseases
The cutting-edge research is being applied to study the human eye. The IPC and Wojtkowski recently established jointly with Prof Krzysztof Palczewski of the University of California (Irvine School of Medicine) in the USA the International Center for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) in Warsaw, Poland. This was made possible by a EUR 11 million grant from the International Research Agendas Programme (IRAP) of the Foundation for Polish Science, awarded to the ERA Chair holder.
This new centre of excellence designs diagnostic tools which can help deliver more-effective treatments for eye diseases. The research is especially focused on diseases related to ageing, one of the most significant risk factors for retinal degenerative diseases.
The resulting clinical interventions are expected to significantly decrease the social and economic burden of ocular conditions. For instance, in the EU, the economic burden of the four leading causes of blindness cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration which together affect more than 38 million people, exceeds EUR 20 billion per annum in just six countries, says Wojtkowski.
The CREATE ERA Chair has enabled the IPC to adopt a new model of research management, boosting the institutes ability to conduct interdisciplinary research programmes between departments and with external collaborators.
The approach to research group management adopted by Wojtkowski and his collaborators is unique in Poland. It includes covering all group expenses, including salaries, by external grants, which reduces the teaching and organisational obligations of group members allowing them to focus more fully on research.
A key aspect of the groups activity is to support the development of young postdocs and PhD students. Due to the research groups positive international reputation, there are considerable opportunities for members to collaborate in leading laboratories worldwide and with industry partners.
Another important innovation is the introduction of a professional group coordinator to facilitate interaction between researchers and the administration. The coordinator is involved in the decision-making process, preparing grant applications, managing the everyday activities of the POB group and communicating with funding agencies, companies and sponsors.
To summarise, there are several crucial requirements for the successful reorganisation and enrichment of the research agenda of professional institutions, including scientific excellence, international collaboration and the high impact of research, says Wojtkowski. The critical factor is to assure the continuous flow of financial resources required to carry out research.