The University of Strathclyde is leading a team developing a new technique enabling 3D imaging of even the most fragile and delicate specimens. 3D imaging is a revolutionary optical imaging technology that provides an enriched image of the interior body for medical analysis by utilising 3D imaging modalities.

The project has received a grant of £187,000 from QuantIC, the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging. The funding is the first award to be made from the Hub’s Accelerated Development Fund.

Many pioneering advances in medicine and biology require observation of the microscopic world with high resolution and without damaging the specimen. One of the most widespread techniques used for this purpose is multiphoton fluorescence microscopy, which allows full 3D imaging via ‘optical sectioning’ – imaging of planes within the sample, without the need for physical slicing. The project will focus on overcoming a major limitation of this technique.

Dr Lucia Caspani, a Chancellor’s Fellow with Strathclyde’s Institute of Photonics, is leading the research. She said: “The current issue with multiphoton fluorescence microscopy resides in the excitation of fluorescence. The lasers required are so powerful that they can damage or alter delicate biological samples.

“In our project, we aim to exploit the unique properties of quantum entanglement to improve the probability of exciting fluorescence by several orders of magnitude. We expect our quantum enhanced microscope to require illumination powers around 1000 times lower than the classical counterpart, enabling 3D imaging of even the most fragile and delicate specimens.” 

Experimentalists around the world are testing this hypothesis, with the aim of the development of the first quantum-enhanced fluorescence microscope. Such a microscope should maintain the strengths of a standard multiphoton fluorescence imaging system – high 3D resolution and molecular specificity – yet with an increased penetration depth and signal-to-background ratio. These advantages could enable deeper imaging at low illumination levels, giving access to sub-cortical brain regions that are fundamental for studies into learning, memory and degenerative neural conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

QuantIC Director Professor Steve Beaumont said: “This is a very exciting project, and it is the first award that QuantIC has made from its new Accelerated Development Fund. We are always looking for projects that address a demonstrable industrial or societal need and feed the pipeline of technology to be translated into industrial applications and commercial opportunities through the Hub.”

The University of Strathclyde is the only academic institution that has been a partner in all four EPSRC funded Quantum Technology Hubs in both phases of funding. The Hubs are in: Sensing and Timing; Quantum Enhanced Imaging; Quantum Computing and Simulation, and Quantum Communications Technologies.