Laser light for fighting brain diseases

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Grafika_Światło laserowe w walce z chorobami mózgu

Piotr Hańczyc, MSc Eng., is a member of the group led by Prof. Marek Samoć, PhD hab., from the Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry, who is a beneficiary of the Foundation for Polish Science’s WELCOME and MISTRZ/MASTER programmes. Working with Prof. Bengt Nordén from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, Hańczyc discovered that subjecting amyloids to short laser light pulses could play an important role in treating neurodegenerative brain diseases. The results of this research have been published in the prestigious journal Nature Photonics.




The scientists studied protein aggregates called amyloids, which are structures that form in the process of slow accumulation of deposits and cause cells to stop functioning properly. They are also linked to the development of neurodegenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the latter also being known as “mad cow disease”.




The studies show that when amyloid fibrils are subjected to short, femtosecond laser light pulses (100 femtoseconds equal 0.0000000000001 s), strong nonlinear optical effects unexpectedly occur, consisting in fibrils simultaneously absorbing two or more photons. This discovery could have implications for the laser-aided diagnosis and treatment of the aforementioned brain diseases. It will enable protein deposits that cause diseases to be distinguished from those that are functioning properly.




“These nonlinear optical effects seem to be related to the special structure of amyloids”, explains Piotr Hańczyc, who is the publication’s first author. “Analogous proteins that don’t have this kind of structure do not yield similar effects. Another very important thing is that nonlinear optical technology enables us to study samples of biological material in the infrared range. Thanks to this, the biological matter is not destroyed, as is the case when ultraviolet light is used, for example. This is very important for medical and biological research”.




Hańczyc prepared the samples under in vitro laboratory conditions at the Chalmers University of Technology under the guidance of Prof. Bengt Nordén, a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry in 2000-2003. Test tubes were filled with protein solutions of appropriate concentration which were then subjected to high temperature. This led to changes of protein conformation and to the formation of amyloid fibrils.




Hańczyc carried out the next part of his research at the Wrocław University of Technology’s Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, in the Organometallics in Nanophotonics Group headed by Prof. Marek Samoć. He used a laser system designed for studying nonlinear optical effects. The measurement procedure involved the Z-scan technique.


“Our research results will serve to stimulate further studies to identify the molecular mechanism of the phenomenon we have discovered and determine the discovery’s usefulness for medical applications. We want to find out whether it could be the foundation for using femtosecond laser light pulses in therapy”, Hańczyc adds.




Link to the paper in Nature Photonics:








Piotr Hańczyc, MSc Eng., graduated from the Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry in 2009, obtaining a master of engineering degree in biotechnology. Parallel to this, he obtained a master of physics degree from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, France, under the programme “Molecular nano- and bio-photonics for biotechnologies and telecommunications”. After graduation he completed a fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra under Prof. Marek Samoć’s supervision. Upon returning to Poland he began his PhD studies at the Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry in Prof. Samoć’s group and at the Chalmers University of Technology in the group of Prof. Bengt Nordén. In 2010 he completed a fellowship at the University of California in Berkeley in the group of Prof. Paul Alivisatos.




Prof. Marek Samoć, PhD hab., graduated from the Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry in 1973. The Wrocław University of Technology was also where he obtained his doctoral degree (1977) and his postdoctoral degree (1985). He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa in 1979-1980. He subsequently conducted research at Dartmouth College (1987-1988) and the State University of New York at Buffalo (1988-1989), among others. He worked at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1991-2008. In 2008 Prof. Samoć received a grant under the Foundation for Polish Science’s WELCOME programme whose aim is to enable outstanding scientists from abroad to set up research teams in Poland. Thanks to this grant, Prof. Samoć and his team are conducting innovative research on nanophotonics at the Wrocław University of Technology. For this they are using laser systems producing very short light pulses – on the femtosecond scale. In 2013 Prof. Samoć obtained an academic grant for professors in the Foundation for Polish Science’s MISTRZ/MASTER programme.




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The Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) was established in 1991 and is an independent, self-financing, nongovernmental organization with a mission to support science. It is Poland’s biggest non-public source of funding for science. The FNP’s statutory goals include supporting leading scientists and research teams, encouraging the transfer of scientific achievements to economic practice, and assisting investment initiatives fostering science in Poland. The Foundation fulfils these goals by awarding individual prizes and stipends to scientists, granting subsidies for modernizing research facilities and protecting scientific resources, awarding funding for transferring scientific achievements to business practice, and other forms of supporting important projects that serve science (e.g. publishing programmes, conferences). The Foundation has also been increasingly active in supporting international scientific cooperation, fostering the exchange of scientific thought, and increasing the research independence of the young generation of scientists.