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Graduate student Murat Yildirim in Washington D.C. for the National Photonics Initiative Congressional Visits Day.

Graduate student Murat Yildirim in Washington D.C. for the National Photonics Initiative Congressional Visits Day.

Murat Yildirim, a Ph.D. student of Associate Professor Adela Ben-Yakar since 2010, recently attended the National Photonics Initiative Congressional Visit in Washington D.C., to bring the vital role of photonics (the study of light) in the economy and national security to the forefront. The Congressional Visits Day started with a Congressional breakfast hosted by Representative Rush Holt (New Jersey) at Capitol Hill. Then, the whole Texas delegacy visited Texas Representatives Ted Poe, Roger Williams, John Culberson, and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and their staff. In these meetings, Yildirim presented their lab's research to emphasize its impact on biomedical research that has potential to provide many new clinical solutions and enable creative future medical treatments.

Photonics is the study of light over the whole spectrum (ultraviolet, visible and infrared) and includes the generation, emission, transmission, modulation signal processing procession, switching, amplification and detection/sensing of light. The name is derived from "photons," which are neither particles nor waves, but have both a particle and a wave nature.

From the National Photonics Initiative web site

The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) is a collaborative alliance among industry, academia and government seeking to raise awareness of photonics - the application of light - and drive US funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields critical to US competitiveness and national security: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, energy, and health and medicine.

From left to right: Graduate Student Murat Yildirim at UT Austin, Chief Optical Scientist John Maida at Halliburton, Graduate student Andrew Traverso at Texas A&M, and Chief of Staff Sharon Grace at the Optical Society of America (OSA).

From left to right: Graduate Student Murat Yildirim at UT Austin, Chief Optical Scientist John Maida at Halliburton, Graduate student Andrew Traverso at Texas A&M, and Chief of Staff Sharon Grace at the Optical Society of America (OSA).

Goals and Purpose of the National Photonics Initiative Meeting

Yildirim was among the representatives from industry and research labs across the USA urging support for key issues related to photonics technologies and R&D, on behalf of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI). Supported by NPI founders and sponsors, the 36 volunteers from photonics were among a total of nearly 200 volunteers participating in this year's Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group (SETWG) Congressional Visits Day.

NPI volunteers urged support for:

  • The bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2013 (RAMI), to establish manufacturing institutes known as the Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NMI) through a public-private partnership between the federal government, local governments, universities, research institutes and industry.
  • Reauthorization of the bipartisan America COMPETES Act, which expired in December 2013, to ensure American competitiveness in the global marketplace, and adding language specifying photonics to reflect the industry's critical role in the ongoing innovation of many other sectors.
  • Establishment of a National Photonics Prototyping and Advance Manufacturing Facility within the Department of Defense's manufacturing mandate.

Murat Yildirim's Research on Ultrafast Laser Surgery for Vocal Cord Damage

During his visit at the Capitol Hill, Yildirim had a chance to explain his and Dr. Ben-Yakar's lab research to Congressmen and Senators of Texas and their staff.

Yildirim's research focuses on ultrafast laser surgery, nonlinear imaging and development of clinical image-guided surgery endoscopes (link to image) for the treatment of vocal fold scarring, a condition that affects about 4 million Americans — mainly singers, teachers and politicians who use their voice extensively.

Scar tissue in the vocal folds increases their stiffness, thus degrading or even eliminating voice function (phonation). However, there is no reliable treatment for restoring proper phonation to individuals with scarred vocal folds.

Recently, a variety of injected biomaterials for restoring the viscoelasticity of the vocal folds have been suggested by collaborators (Steven Zeitels, James Kobler, Sandeep Karajanagi and Robert Langer) at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. However, optimal localization of the material within the scarred tissue will likely be extremely difficult and unpredictable with injection alone because the injected material tends to follow the path of least resistance, ending up where it is least needed. To address this challenge, the research group has proposed a treatment in which an injection space is created through sub-epithelial ablation — the removal of material under the top layer of tissue by irradiation using a laser beam. The injection space is created in a vertical plane (see figure C below) in the vocal fold by using ultrashort laser pulses— an electromagnetic pulse whose time duration is of the order of a picosecond (10−12 second) or less.

diagram of vocal fold proposed surgery

Proposed Treatment Plan: (a) Video image of human vocal folds. (b) Schematic of vocal fold histology (coronal section) corresponding to the A-A' reference line in (a) showing the site for typical scar formation. (c) The surgery probe is positioned against the compliant vocal tissue, deforming it around the optical window of the probe and allowing for both imaging of the superficial lamina propria (SLP)/scar and ablation of a planar void within the scar. (d) Following laser surgery, we use specialized phonosurgery needle to inject biomaterial into the new surgical plane and fill the void selectively. We hypothesize that void filled with soft biomaterial will recover the mechanical functionality of the vocal fold.

Development of an Endoscope for the Vocal Fold Scarring

Because there isn't a reliable treatment for the condition, the medical community is open to acceptance of ultrafast laser surgery to create precise cuts inside bulk tissue. Therefore, we are developing miniaturized, flexible, handheld endoscopes for the procedure. The graphic below illustrates three generations of endoscopes developed in Ben-Yakar's lab.

three generations of endoscopes from Dr. Ben-Yakar's lab

Three generations of endoscopic ultrafast laser surgery probes developed in Dr. Ben-Yakar's lab. Photograph of the (a) 18-mm probe and schematics of the (b) 9.6-mm probe and the (c) 5-mm probe. (d) Imaging of breast carcinoma cells (left) and ablation of a single cell without giving any damage to its neighborhood (right) using the 18-mm probe. Scale bars are 20 μm.(e) (Top) Imaging of freshly excised porcine vocal fold and (Bottom) Imaging of rat tail tendon acquired with the 9.6-mm probe, showing highly aligned collagen fibers. Scale bars are 10 μm and 5 μm, respectively. (f) (Top) Ablation of a 30-nm gold coated glass slide scanned for 50 ms (left) and 25 ms (right) durations using with 5-mm diameter probe. (Bottom) Ultrafast laser drilling through an ex vivo 70-μm thick scarred hamster cheek pouch using 200 nJ pulse energy. Scale bars are 100 μm.

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