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Dr Jolly Xavier (L) and Professor Frank Vollmer (R)

New state-of-the-art optical spectrum analyser will help to detect disease

Pioneering research, conducted by Professor Frank Vollmer at the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, will advance even further thanks to support from the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung.

A grant from the German foundation for Professor Vollmer to purchase a state-of-the-art spectrometer will help to analyse light-matter interaction and spectral response of individual molecules in even greater detail.

Professor Vollmer studies the fundamental mechanisms of life by looking in unprecedented detail at the biomolecules that make up all cells in the human body. Being able to watch these ‘nano-machines’ at work, means he can understand how they keep life processes running and why they sometimes go wrong and cause people to get sick. In some instances, these failures can lead to diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

It is currently very difficult to obtain images from nanostructures that are smaller than the wavelength of the probing light. Because nanostructures cannot be viewed by current microscopy techniques, Professor Vollmer has developed bespoke technology that uses ultra-precise lasers and nanophotonic sensors to obtain optical signals from biomolecules. The addition of the new optical spectrum analyser will now help to detect these signals and monitor the dynamics of nanomachines at the near quantum limit level.

The Berthold Leibinger Stiftung was keen to support this unique research and has for the first time funded a project in the UK. The German not-for-profit foundation, known for their international prizes for innovations and research in applied laser technology, rarely supports research projects directly and the University of Exeter is very grateful for this support.

Professor Vollmer said: “We are all made of ‘nano-machines’, proteins, enzymes and other biomolecules that are just a few nanometres in size each serving a specific purpose in the body. Observing them is critically important. They constitute the basis for living matter in cells and organisms, and investigating them will deliver novel approaches to nanomedicine in the future.”

Sven Ederer from the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung said: “We are delighted to support Professor Vollmer’s work. This is revolutionary research, not being conducted anywhere else in the world, that could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of serious disease.”

Now they have the new spectrum analyser, Professor Vollmer and his research colleague Dr Jolly Xavier can pursue their long-term goal of developing next-generation medical tests for detecting virtually any disease biomarker on a single microchip in real-time.

Date: 9 October 2018