30. August 2021 | Thorsten Naeser
Meet the members of the Lasers4Life Study Team @ the LMU Medical Center
We may have passed each other in the corridors of the LMU Medical Center in Großhadern at one time or another. And right here we would like to introduce ourselves!
We are members of the interdisciplinary research team Lasers4Life (L4L). The L4L team is led by Dr. Mihaela Zigman and affiliated with the LMU and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics. And we are all members of the attoworld community (attoworld.de). The aim of L4L is to develop a method for the detection of cancers and other diseases at the earliest possible stage, with the aid of a unique technology based on the generation of ultrashort pulses of laser light. Such a light source can in principle be used to analyze the molecular composition of blood samples.
So can pulsed laser light tell whether or not a person has cancer? – Not yet. But this is the ultimate goal of the L4L project, in which international researchers including laser physicists, mathematicians, physicians and molecular biologists are collaborating. The goal that they all share is to develop, test and validate a procedure that can do just that.
In addition to scientists and medical experts, such an ambitious project requires a team that organizes the collection of samples with which the analytical method can be tested and standardized. – That is our task. We maintain contact with both patients and healthy blood donors, collect and document the required samples, and make them available to the researchers for analysis.
Who are we?
Jacqueline Hermann, a molecular biotechnologist, is the leader of the team. Jacqueline is our project manager, and is also responsible for liaison between the research team and the clinicians at the LMU Medical Center. In addition to these managerial tasks, she is involved in coordinating the work of the national and international research groups engaged in the project.
Jacqueline is not alone. Without the support of Sabine Witzens, her job would be impossible. – Sabine is our medical lab technician, and has years of clinical experience.
The third member of the L4L team is Carola Spindler, who provides support in the management of the project and the study data. Carola has a Master’s degree in Business Psychology, but she decided to branch out into a different field. – And her particular point of view demonstrates the advantages of transdisciplinary collaboration every day.
Where do we work?
We are based in the Department of Urology at the LMU Medical Center, which is headed by Prof. Dr. Christian Stief. Sabine and Carola are mainly involved with patients. They outline the nature of the project, and ask patients whether they would be willing to support it by donating a blood sample. They take the samples, document and process them, and enter the data into the project’s database.
Our search for sample donors
The collection of blood samples requires great care and meticulous planning. Our working day begins with the search for suitable subjects for our study. Potential donors must fulfil certain specific criteria – e.g. in relation to age and clinical history. We then explain the rationale and the aim of the clinical study.
Carola answers the inquiries and looks for suitable participants to come to LMU Klinikum.
Persons who agree to take part in the study then donate a blood sample. We draw between 5 and 10 ml of blood, which is immediately centrifuged to separate the liquid from the cellular constituents. Each fraction is then divided into 0.5-ml ‘aliquots’, little tubes that get to be stored in a freezer at −80°C, and subsequently transported to LMU’s Laboratory for Extreme Photonics (LEX) in Garching for laser analysis.
What do we do with the blood samples?
The blood samples are first processed in the laboratory at the LMU Medical Center in Großhadern.
At temperatures of −80°C, samples can be safely stored for years. Furthermore, in the laboratory at LMU, samples can be frozen in liquid nitrogen at −180°C, which ensures that they will remain unchanged for decades.
The researchers need to analyze as many physiological states as possible, so they need access to a large and highly diverse collection of blood samples. Like a person’s fingerprints, the biochemical composition of the blood is unique to each individual. To investigate these fingerprints in detail, the data obtained from laser analyses with ultrashort light pulses will be processed with the aid of methods drawn from artificial intelligence (AI). This approach enables computers to detect subtle patterns in the infrared spectral data, which in turn makes it possible to reliably connect specific features of blood chemistry with underlying disorders.
The use of liquid nitrogen for sample storage has one very important advantage. Science and technology do not stand still - thus long-term storage ensures that researchers and medical professionals can probe the same blood samples with ever more refined analytical methods and diagnostic procedures, thus gaining new insights from these samples for decades to come.
The blood samples are stored at −80°C prior to being transferred to the laser lab in Garching.
Why we are excited by this innovative research project
“It’s a very varied job, with a range of responsibilities, and it presents new challenges every day. What appeals to me most is having the opportunity to work in a forward-looking and very interesting environment,” says Carola. – And Sabine adds “I enjoy working with people, and it’s encouraging to see that a very large proportion of those we speak to are ready to take part in our study. The participants are also interested in the scientific background of the project, and put lots of questions to us.”
Would you like to know more? If so, do get in touch with us in person: We welcome everyone who wishes to help shape the future of medical probing aided by ultrafast metrology!