Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 28th 2015 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, July 28, 2015
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Lihong Wang creates the sort of medical tech-
nology you d expect to find on the starship Enter-
Wang, a professor of biomedical engineering at
Washington University in St Louis, has already helped
develop instruments that can detect individual cancer
cells in the bloodstream and oxygen consumption
deep within the body. He s also created a camera that
shoots at 100 billion frames a second, fast enough to
freeze an object traveling at the speed of light.
"It s really about turning some of these ideas that
we thought were science fiction into fact," says Richard
Conroy, who directs the Division of Applied Science
& Technology at the National Institute of Biomedical
Imaging and Bioengineering in the USA.
Wang s ultimate goal is to use a combination of
light and sound to solve the mysteries of the human
brain. The brain is a "magical black box we still don t
understand," he says.
Wang describes himself as a tool maker. And when
President Obama unveiled his BRAIN initiative a
couple of years ago to accelerate efforts to understand
how we think and learn and remember, Wang realised
that brain researchers really needed a tool he d been
working on for years.
"We want to conquer the brain," Wang says. "But
even for a mouse brain, which is only a few millimetres
thick, we really don t have a technique that allows us
to see throughout the whole brain."
Current brain-imaging techniques such as functional
MRI or PET scans all have drawbacks. They re slow,
or not sharp enough, or they can only see things near
So Wang has been developing another approach,
one he believes will be fast enough to monitor brain
activity in real time and sharp enough to reveal an
individual brain cell.
Wang s initial idea was to use light. There was a
problem, though---one that s obvious if you hold your
hand up to a light bulb. When light enters the body,
it starts bouncing around.
"This is why we can t even see our own bone in
the hands," Wang says. "Because light, after like a
millimetre, it becomes hopeless to get a very good
Wang thought he had a solution. It involved sound.
Sound waves don t bounce around much in the body,
which is why an ultrasound can show a growing foe-
tus.But ultrasound images are blurry, sometimes so
blurry it s hard to tell a boy from a girl. So Wang began
experimenting with a technique that blends the speed
and precision of light with the penetrating ability of
sound. It s called photoacoustic imaging.
"We re combining the strengths of two forms of
energy, light and sound, in a single form of imaging,"
In the past few years, photoacoustic imaging has
become a very big deal in the scientific world. And
so has Wang.
Last year, he published more than 50 scientific
papers. So far his research has attracted nearly US
$50 million in grant funding. And Caltech was
impressed enough to lure him away from Washington
University. His lab will be move from St Louis to
Pasadena over the next year.
Wang now has so many projects going that his lab
now has teams working on four different floors of
one research building at Washington University. One
of those projects is Wang s latest photoacoustic micro-
scope, which occupies much of a metal workbench
the size of a ping pong table.
Richard Conroy at the National Institute of Bio-
medical Imaging and Bioengineering says he s often
amazed by Wang, who has been funded by the institute
for more than a decade.
"He s one of these unique people who s able to take
technologies and ideas from one field and apply them
to a different field," Conroy says. "So for example, his
work trying to target light at individual cells within
the body. That s really borrowing ideas from astron-
Photoacoustic imaging can do more than reveal the
brain, Conroy says. Wang s lab has helped develop
systems that use the technique to show tumors of
the breast and skin, and even detect individual cancer
cells in the bloodstream. (www.npr.org)
Scientist uses light and
sound to reveal the brain
Wang is creating
that used both light
and sound to image
Illustration by Chris
Nickels for NPR.
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