The invention and the recent progress in optical microscopy has undoubtedly changed the way research in bio-medical and life sciences is carried out today. One of the biggest obstacles to progress in medical research is money. All the equipment researchers need to study diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s costs a lot of money.
But Balpreet Singh Ahluwalia, an Indian scientist working at The University of Tromsø in northern Norway, is changing the game. He’s developing a small chip that can bypass the heavy instruments researchers use to observe the inside of living cells, called nanoscopes.
Nanoscopes see images even smaller than traditional microscopes.
Unlike a traditional optical microscope, an optical nanoscope can see the nanoscale biological systems at high resolution. One such example is visualising the nano-holes or pores on the surface of endothelial liver cell. Optical nanoscopy now allows scientists to study how the sub-cellular structures inside the cell interact with each other in living environment. However, present day optical nanoscopy comes with a huge cost, typically around 0.7-1 million Euros, which is around INR 5-7 crores, so not all labs can afford them.
Ahluwalia’s research is funded by the European Research Council.
Ahluwalia’s photonic chip would allow researchers to bypass the expensive nanoscope altogether. When mass produced these photonic chip would cost around 10s Euros, or INR 700, that labs could buy the photonic chip and retrofit into their respective microscope to convert a standard optical microscope into nanoscope.
With cheaper technology, more labs will be able to study the world’s most devastating diseases.