We posed a few questions to Dr Vijaya Raghavan of TOMI, NUI Galway to gain their views on their work in nanophotonics and STARSTEM.

TOMI (Tissue Optics & Microcirculation Imaging) was created as a core unit of the National Biophotonics and Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIPI); the mission of the TOMI laboratory is to promote better healthcare through research and advancements in biophotonics technology.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your role within TOMI.

I am an Applied Physicist with a PhD in Nanophotonics. With TOMI’s varied expertise in biomedical optical technologies, I oversee nanotechnology-enabled applications of those imaging technologies.

TOMI is a leader in tissue optics and imaging technologies. Can you give us an overview of how TOMI contributes to STARSTEM? What is your role in STARSTEM?

With its multidisciplinary team with expertise in biophotonics and tissue optics, TOMI have developed techniques for structural and functional imaging of tissues to help understand various disease conditions. This includes nano-sensitive optical coherence tomography, in-vivo imaging of microcirculation, and design and development of various nanomaterials to enhance the photoacoustic imaging effect. These varied skill set overlap with the objectives of STARSTEM and enable TOMI to effectively coordinate the efforts of research partners with expertise in nanomaterials, regenerative medicine, and bio-imaging fields from across Europe.

With my PhD and post-PhD research experience in light concentration effects in photonic nanostructures, I played a key part since the proposal drafting stage for STARSTEM. With the technical know-how of nanoparticle design and development, nanomaterial-enabled enhancement of photothermal effect and its detection using photoacoustic imaging technique, all of which forms the core of STARSTEM, I can grasp the research efforts of STARSTEM partners and help TOMI to effectively coordinate the project.

Nanoscale imaging of cell therapies has challenges. What do you see as the major ones?

Nanoscale molecular behaviours in native environments have been poorly understood due to the lack of adequate tools for observation.

Primary challenge in nanoscale imaging of cell therapies is the depth resolved label-free detection of structural changes with nanoscale sensitivity, which TOMI have addressed with novel nanosensitive optical coherence tomography technique for studying changes in static and dynamic structures.

Tell us more about STARSTEM

STARSTEM boasts of multidisciplinary collaborators who are top class researchers in their field of expertise as diverse as applied optical and acoustic physics to regenerative medicine and orthopaedics. An important attribute of STARSTEM team is how humble and approachable the leaders, and subsequently the team members, are no matter how much they have achieved throughout their career.

Why is STARSTEM important to TOMI? What unique opportunities does it present?

With research in varied biomedical technologies that TOMI undertakes, STARSTEM provides the opportunity to investigate and apply one such technique, nano-enabled optoacoustic imaging, at a larger scale and ideally leading to clinical studies that could provide a path towards commercial exploitation. Along with the opportunity to partner up with cutting-edge optoacoustic research and commercial entities, STARSTEM provided TOMI with unique opportunity to collaborate with experts in fields such as orthopaedics and 3D cell production which otherwise would’ve been considered too disparate to TOMI’s research interests. STARSTEM also offered TOMI the avenue to understand the complex process of synthesis and large-scale manufacturing of nanomaterials which would inspire further research prospects in nanotech-enabled biomedical applications.