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We received an ECS research grant from RGC!

Dr. Jung Sun YOO received a prestigious research grant, Early Career Scheme (ECS) 2017/2018, from Research Grants Council (RGC) by the Hong Kong SAR Government. The grant amounts to a total of HKD 1,248,632 over three years. This is the second largest ECS grant awarded this year for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). The comments from the reviewers were very encouraging, and especially the panel commented "extremely innovative proposal with substantial translational potential." The following is a brief description which opens to the public through RGC website.

Project title: Intraoperative imaging system to highlight peripheral nerves using polarized spectral reflectance


Accidental damage of peripheral nerves during surgery is a leading cause of critical patient morbidity such as sensory loss, chronic pain or permanent paralysis. Nerves are usually identified by their appearance and anatomical location, however, sometimes overlooked due to similarity of shape and color to non-nerve tissues. Electromyography using local electrical stimulation has been the only available technique to detect nerves in current operating room, which cannot provide any visual guidance. Non-linear and tomographic methods have shown potential for in vivo nerve imaging, these technologies require complex and expensive instrumentation and time-consuming processing which is practically challenging for surgical use. Fluorescence imaging with exogenously injected probes has attracted increasing interest in recent years. However, as yet none of nerve-specific peptides or fluorophores is approved for clinical use due to concern of toxicity. Devastating complications by intraoperative nerve injury and significant weakness of current nerve detection techniques highlight the urgent need for new development of specific nerve visualization method in surgical setting.

In this project, we aim to develop a novel label-free imaging system using a polarization sensitive spectral reflectance imaging technique for the optimized intraoperative nerve detection without any concern of toxicity. Our idea to specifically visualize peripheral nerves is that to utilize their intrinsic optical properties, i.e., 1) wavelength-dependent reflectance based on thin film interference phenomenon induced from myelin structure of nerve fibers and 2) polarization sensitive contrast due to birefringence induced from regular arrangement of lipids and proteins in nerve fibers. We have identified strong candidates for specific nerve reflectance in near-infrared wavelength region. Based on such compelling evidence, we will first investigate optical characteristics of peripheral nerves in terms of reflectance, absorption, transmission, and polarization using our custom-built spectroscopy. Then, a polarization sensitive spectral reflectance imaging setup to provide concurrent color anatomy and nerve highlighting images in real-time will be constructed using easy-to-implement optics with multiple-bandpass filter and polarizer. Finally, we will showcase the imaging performance metrics of the developed system using phantoms, tissues, and normal and cancer mouse models.

To this end, we provide, for the first time, a powerful navigation tool highlighting the exact location of peripheral nerves with high specificity and no toxicity to guide surgeons, which allows complete preservation of nerve structures. A new cutting edge technique developed and its successful demonstration can potentially cause a paradigm shift in surgical treatment, facilitating minimally invasive surgery and personalized medicine to improve overall patient outcome.

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