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Research Project Will Track Tumors with Quantum Imaging

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DARMSTADT, Germany, Feb.16, 2023 — A project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research will investigate the viability of quantum optical imaging for tumor diagnostics. Nine project partners, including TU Darmstadt, will explore the issue in the €6.7 million ($7.2 million) “Quancer” project under the framework program “Quantum Technologies: From the Basics to the Market.”

The various imaging techniques used to diagnose cancer aim to detect tumor tissue and make it visible. When suspicious tissue is detected, doctors take a sample and examine it further. The gold standard of diagnostics are contrast methods that stain certain molecules and light microscopy to show their distribution.

Experimental setup of a nonlinear interferometer for 'spooky' quantum imaging with undetected light. Courtesy of TU Darmstadt.
In this area, digital microscopes are seeing increased use due to their automated procedures and faster processes. Infrared imaging techniques, such as infrared microscopy, tie in with digital pathology and provide further information. To do this, infrared light is used to excite molecules. Based on the vibrations of the molecules, it’s now possible to infer their nature. Tissue is therefore made visible without the need for additional contrast agents.

However, this method faces limitations in detection because infrared detectors are limited in efficiency and signal-to-noise ratio.

Quantum imaging can be used to circumvent this problem, by using two light beams correlated with each other in a specific arrangement. One light beam thereby sends photons to the tissue sample. The other light beam sends photons to a camera.

Due to the quantum correlation of both photons, an image of the tissue sample is generated, although the light reaching the camera has never “seen” it. This is known as “spooky” quantum imaging.

Under the scope of the collaborative project, the partners are combining quantum imaging with a professional microscopy system, reportedly for the first time. The partners will test the mechanism in a clinical setting as part of the project.

According to Markus Gräfe, TU Darmstadt professor at the Institute of Applied Physics, the project will ultimately introduce a new tool for cancer diagnostics.

The project partners are Rapp OptoElectronic GmbH; Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies eV; Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Institute of Applied Physics; TOPTICA Photonics AG; University of Hamburg, Institute for Laser Physics; Jena University Hospital, Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic; n-Hands GmbH & Co. KG; and Technical University of Darmstadt, Department of Physics, Institute for Applied Physics.
Feb 2023
Smallest amount into which the energy of a wave can be divided. The quantum is proportional to the frequency of the wave. See photon.
Businesscancer researchdiagnosticsquantumimagingBiophotonicsEuropeTU DarmstadtLeibniz IPHTToptica PhotonicsInstitute of Applied Physics at Friedrich Schiller University JenaInstitute for Laser Physics at Hamburg Universityn-HandsGermanyQuancerMicroscopytumor

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