New optomechanical microscope technology targets preterm births

05/28/2015
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois has received a grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to build a first-of-its-kind opto-mechanical microscope. The device will be capable of obtaining optical, mechanical, and even chemical information from a biological specimen. 
 
The work will be based on the development of a nanoindenter, multimodal, microscope objective—or NIMMO—that uses a custom micro-electro-mechanical systems platform to combine nanoindentation with a host of nonlinear microscopy and spectroscopy techniques.
 
NIMMO could immediately impact many areas of mechanobiology, such as in elucidating the biomechanical mechanism behind preterm birth, a global problem that affects 15 million babies annually worldwide. In addition, NIMMO could be used on a wide range of tissues including tendon/ligament, cartilage, skin, and cornea, making a major biomedical impact by helping to enhance diagnoses and treatments.
 
“The optics of NIMMO will be based on the use of mirrors rather than glass, and as a result, will be insensitive to the usual focusing errors resulting from different wavelengths of light traveling at different speeds through glass,” said principal investigator Kimani Toussaint, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE). “Thus, the same lens can be used for a wide-range of imaging/spectroscopic modalities.”
 
Such a device does not currently exist either commercially or in a research setting and will be a major advance toward understanding biological tissues’ complex structural, chemical, and functional relationships, which result from their inherent heterogeneity. 
 
“Each of these relationships (structural, chemical, and mechanical) alone is currently difficult to characterize in biological tissues and, in particular, to evaluate locally,” said co-PI Amy Wagoner Johnson, also an associate professor in MechSE. “This microscope will bring them all together under one unit, adaptable to a range of microscope platforms. It could change the way that biological tissues are characterized, making the entire undertaking more complete and more efficient than previously was possible.”
 
The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is one of the largest private philanthropic foundations in the state of Iowa with assets of more than $285 million and annual grant distributions of over $13 million.  It was created through the will of Roy J. Carver, a Muscatine industrialist and philanthropist, who died in 1981. Since the beginning of the Trust's grant-making activities in 1987, more than $283 million has been distributed in the form of over 1,900 individual grants. Biomedical and scientific research; primary, secondary and higher education; and other issues related to the needs of youth are the program areas of greatest interest to the Carver Charitable Trust.
 
“Getting an instrument like NIMMO funded in today’s economic climate is very difficult,” Toussaint said. “We’re very lucky that Illinois and the Carver Trust have such a historically strong partnership, and that both have the vision to see the potential benefits such an instrument could have to society.”
Other co-PIs include Dr. Placid Ferreira (MechSE professor and department head), Dr. William Wilson (formerly of the Materials Research Laboratory at UIUC and now at Harvard University), and Dr. Glen Fried (Institute for Genomic Biology at UIUC).
Dr. Kimani Toussaint
Dr. Kimani Toussaint
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois has received a grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to build a first-of-its-kind opto-mechanical microscope. The device will be capable of obtaining optical, mechanical, and even chemical information from a biological specimen. 
 
The work will be based on the development of a nanoindenter, multimodal, microscope objective—or NIMMO—that uses a custom micro-electro-mechanical systems platform to combine nanoindentation with a host of nonlinear microscopy and spectroscopy techniques.
 
NIMMO could immediately impact many areas of mechanobiology, such as in elucidating the biomechanical mechanism behind preterm birth, a global problem that affects 15 million babies annually worldwide. In addition, NIMMO could be used on a wide range of tissues including tendon/ligament, cartilage, skin, and cornea, making a major biomedical impact by helping to enhance diagnoses and treatments.
 
“The optics of NIMMO will be based on the use of mirrors rather than glass, and as a result, will be insensitive to the usual focusing errors resulting from different wavelengths of light traveling at different speeds through glass,” said principal investigator Kimani Toussaint, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE). “Thus, the same lens can be used for a wide-range of imaging/spectroscopic modalities.”
 
Such a device does not currently exist either commercially or in a research setting and will be a major advance toward understanding biological tissues’ complex structural, chemical, and functional relationships, which result from their inherent heterogeneity. 
 
“Each of these relationships (structural, chemical, and mechanical) alone is currently difficult to characterize in biological tissues and, in particular, to evaluate locally,” said co-PI Amy Wagoner Johnson, also an associate professor in MechSE. “This microscope will bring them all together under one unit, adapt

Conceptual model describing significance of NIMMO to biological studies. The various imaging and spectroscopic instrument modalities enabled by the instrument are indicated.
Conceptual model describing significance of NIMMO to biological studies. The various imaging and spectroscopic instrument modalities enabled by the instrument are indicated.

able to a range of microscope platforms. It could change the way that biological tissues are characterized, making the entire undertaking more complete and more efficient than previously was possible.”
 
The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is one of the largest private philanthropic foundations in the state of Iowa with assets of more than $285 million and annual grant distributions of over $13 million.  It was created through the will of Roy J. Carver, a Muscatine industrialist and philanthropist, who died in 1981. Since the beginning of the Trust's grant-making activities in 1987, more than $283 million has been distributed in the form of over 1,900 individual grants. Biomedical and scientific research; primary, secondary and higher education; and other issues related to the needs of youth are the program areas of greatest interest to the Carver Charitable Trust.
 
“Getting an instrument like NIMMO funded in today’s economic climate is very difficult,” Toussaint said. “We’re very lucky that Illinois and the Carver Trust have such a historically strong partnership, and that both have the vision to see the potential benefits such an instrument could have to society.”
 
Other co-PIs include Dr. Placid Ferreira (MechSE professor and department head), Dr. William Wilson (formerly of the Materials Research Laboratory at UIUC and now at Harvard University), and Dr. Glen Fried (Institute for Genomic Biology at UIUC).