ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 15, 2013 — A research partnership between UCF’s College of Medicine and CREOL, the College of Optics and Photonics, is helping scientists use light to learn how cells move during normal development and in disease.
The joint UCF project is called RIBOP — Research Initiative In Biophotonics — and was initiated after both colleges and the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization each contributed $15,000 to identify biological applications for photonics and lasers.
Dr. Cristina Fernandez-Valle, a professor in the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Aristide Dogariu, a professor at CREOL, were the first team to receive RIBOP funding. They have published one paper and are now applying for a National Institutes of Health grant to continue their work.
“When you put people with different specialties and skills together, you never know what’s going to happen,” Fernandez-Valle said. “It’s a great opportunity to jump-start ideas.”
Fernandez-Valle’s research focuses on Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a disease that can leave children and young adults deaf, partially paralyzed or brain damaged. NF2 affects one in 20,000 people, causing multiple tumors that, while benign, cause serious neurological problems. The disease attacks the body’s Schwann cells, which are cells in nerves in the body that form myelin sheaths around axons. Her research seeks to understand the cellular changes that make NF2 occur, and to target therapies that can prevent or slow tumor growth.
The team is developing novel photonic imaging techniques that allow them to observe how Schwann cells move on cylindrical axons. Imaging cells that move along curved surfaces is very difficult and therefore is poorly understood. All cells move during development, but if movement goes haywire, birth defects can occur, and abnormal movement of cancer cells is part of the metastatic process by which cancers spread. By understanding Schwann cell movement, scientists hope to understand how the Schwann cells form myelin and what happens when they acquire mutations and form tumors.
The partnership includes Fernandez-Valle’s students Anthony Cole, a National Merit Scholar undergraduate, and Nicklaus Sparrow, a graduate student in biomedical sciences, working closely with Dr. Dogariu and his graduate students, Kyle Douglas and Colin Constant.
A second-year M.D. student, William Trudo, is doing his Focused Inquiry and Research Experience project with Fernandez-Valle on the optics and photonics project. He said the project has “pushed me out of my comfort zone. The use of light and lasers is outside what we generally learn in biology. Each of us has a different point of view and once you understand each other, you can move quickly.”
For more information, visit: www.ucf.edu