Oct. 30, 2023Print | PDF
Nirosha Murugan, a Faculty of Science Distinguished Research Chair at Wilfrid Laurier University, was recently awarded $100,000 USD in research funding from the 2023 Optica Foundation Challenge. She was one of just 10 researchers from around the globe recognized for exceptional ideas to leverage optics and photonics to address world issues. Murugan’s research uses light-based biomarkers – measurable indicators of disease – to detect cancer in its early stages.
The Optica Foundation is the leading organization for professionals harnessing the science of light. Optics examines the behaviour and properties of visible and invisible light, as well as the instruments that use and detect it. This includes the study of vision, lasers, telescopes, manufacturing computer chips and environmental monitoring.
“This critical funding will support my lab’s goal of developing a safe, inexpensive technique to detect cancer and treatment-related side effects as early as possible to extend life and greatly improve its quality for survivors,” says Murugan, an assistant professor in Laurier’s Department of Health Sciences.
Funding from the Optica Foundation Challenge will support experiential learning opportunities for Murugan's student research assistants and postdoctoral fellow.
Existing cancer diagnostics rely on costly and invasive procedures to detect biomarkers that are highly variable between individuals, leading to later diagnoses and higher mortality. Similarly, doctors struggle to identify which patients will suffer cognitive impairments following chemotherapy, known colloquially as “chemo brain.”
Murugan is developing a diagnostic imaging platform to identify light-based biomarkers of cancer that are naturally emitted by cancerous tissues. All cells continuously release low-intensity light, known as ultra-weak photon emissions (UPEs). Murugan’s research team previously demonstrated that UPEs can be used to determine cell state and behaviour, and now advances in technology have enabled the unprecedented measurement of UPEs from cancer cells at high resolutions.
Murugan believes this approach could be a major breakthrough toward early cancer detection, as well as predicting chemo brain before the onset of cognitive symptoms. If successful, it could also be applied to detect other medical conditions such as stroke and metabolic disorders.
“I am overjoyed that this frontier research with the potential to transform medicine is being recognized by my peers as important and worth exploring,” says Murugan. “I am excited to expand my training program at Laurier by offering students, postdoctoral fellows and other research personnel world-class opportunities in optics, biomedical engineering and cancer biology.”
Learn more about Murugan’s research at Laurier.