With 20 ongoing research projects at any given time, professor Brian Pogue’s bustling research lab in the Thayer School of Engineering develops optics and lasers to improve cancer detection and treatment. Pogue was one of 72 fellows elected to the Optical Society of America, awarded to the organization’s members who have played a role in advancing the field.
Pogue’s research focuses on improving cancer screening using medical imaging technology in order to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment. The lab, funded primarily by the American Cancer Society, aims to help diagnose cancer in its early stages to extend and improve patients’ quality of life, Pogue said.
Pogue runs one of the largest labs at Thayer, and, as the principal investigator on all of the lab’s research, works with other professors, research scientists, PhD students and undergraduate students. While PhD students perform research for their own projects, Pogue is involved in every study by brainstorming strategies and supervising the lab.
In addition to developing optic and laser technology for early stage cancer diagnosis, Pogue supervises projects that further enhance cancer screening.
Kristian Sexton, a PhD student in Pogue’s lab, researches fluorescence guided surgical systems. Because it may be difficult to differentiate between cancerous and healthy cells, his study aims to develop a way to light up tumor cells when they are exposed to fluorescent light. This process is analogous to using a black light to illuminate certain properties on surfaces, Sexton said. When fully developed, the technology will allow surgeons to differentiate between cells more easily during surgery.
Sexton has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, and appreciates the chance to collaborate with diverse students in Thayer.
“One of the unique things about [Pogue’s] lab and the whole Thayer School is you have a lot of people from different backgrounds.” Sexton said. “The projects are very interdisciplinary, that is one of the great things about working in this field.”
Adam Glaser, also a PhD student in Pogue’s lab, is working to improve radiotherapy cancer treatment. His research looks at dosimetry, the accurate measurement of radiation doses needed in order to kill cancer cells.
Glaser’s study employs optics to provide a 3D image of a tumor before and after radiation treatment.
“The potential technology could help improve the quality assurance, treatment planning and delivery verification of radiation therapy.” Glaser said. “The implications would be improved efficacy of treatments, a reduced number of mistreatments and mistakes.”
Glaser’s research has progressed through a number of research studies. Although Glaser does not yet know the tool’s commercial market potential, researchers hope to eventually develop and distribute the dosimetry technology, Glaser said.
A relatively recent technology to come out of Pogue’s lab lies within the field of breast cancer imaging. By looking at the molecular features of the cancer cells, researchers are able to better image the cancerous cells in the breast, Pogue said.
The breast cancer imaging project has passed the first stage of clinical trials at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and has progressed to multi-center trials in which the technology is distributed and tested in other facilities, Pogue said. If it is successful in this stage, Pogue’s team will search for a company to disperse the new technology to different hospitals.
“The real goal of all the research is to extend people’s lives.” Pogue said. “It is well known that if you can detect and treat cancer early on, the patient has a higher chance of survival.”
The Optical Society of America unites more than 180,000 people from 175 countries to focus on advancing research in optics. Selection as a fellow member is a competitive process, and nominations are limited to 0.5 percent of the overall society membership per year.