Medical and other fiber-optics research at KTH gets €3.2 million grant

Nano- and microstructured fibers, semiconductor fibers to be research focus at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Medical and other fiber-optics research at KTH gets €3.2 million grant
Medical and other fiber-optics research at KTH gets €3.2 million grant
The €3.2 million grant will enable KTH researcher Fredrik Laurell and colleagues to develop multifunctional fibers with complex structures. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Fredrik Laurell from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) and his colleagues have received a €3.2 million grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (also in Stockholm) to carry out research on fiber-optics applications in such areas as medicine and solar energy.

Laurell, a professor and director of research in laser physics at KTH, is the main applicant for the project, "Multifunctional Fibre Optics," which will receive the grant over the next five years from the foundation. The KTH fiber-optics research covers everything from bio-implants via medical sensors to solar cells.

"Fiber optics is the basis for data communication and Internet, but it is also very important for medical imaging, such as gastroscopy," Laurell says. "This research program has a fundamental, interdisciplinary nature with a strong exploration profile. Through an intelligent introduction of new features in fiber, we get a fiber-optic toolkit with a number of unique optical components. This will increase the possible uses of optical fibers and dramatically revolutionize several areas of science."

Nanofluidics, nanochemistry, and biophotonics
Included in this toolkit are nano- and microstructured fibers, including fibers with integrated electrodes, as well as various channels and cavities, in which liquids and gases may flow and interact with the light in the fiber. Particles can be collected in the channels and then analyzed, sorted or treated. This creates a platform which includes integration of nanofluidics, nanochemistry, and biophotonics for analysis and manipulation of small volumes of biomolecules. When the fiber is thin and strong, it can be inserted into the body without significantly disturbing or damaging tissues.

Especially interesting is the use of fiber for in-vivo studies. One can examine the body and hopefully remove diseased or defective cells or treat diseased areas locally by injecting medicine, chemicals, laser light, or electricity.

"The liquid in the fiber can also be used as a laser medium; if living cells can be collected in the fiber, then there is the possibility to create a living laser," says Laurell. "In collaboration with the Karolinska Institute [Solna, Sweden], we will use these fibres to study tumors, especially from pancreatic cancer, which is both difficult to access and difficult to treat."

Semiconductor fibers
In the toolbox, researchers will also have semiconductor fibers with which one can generate and transmit long-wave IR radiation and terahertz radiation. These also can be used as pure optoelectronic components in solar cells.

By the time the project is completed, the researchers aim to have developed several practical new technologies. Their hopes are particularly high for in-vivo cell analysis and cancer treatment using chemotherapy and photodynamic therapy. The researchers also hope to advance the development of terahertz and sensor physics.


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