The group works at the interface between nano-photonics and biology.
We combine advances in photonic nano-structures, which are materials that can confine light in nanoscale dimensions, with optical microscopy and spectroscopy to image, sense and manipulate biological objects.
Breakthroughs in biological sciences are often accompanied with advances in imaging. Over the past two decades, several innovations in instrumentation, data analysis and dye design powered the resolution revolution in fluorescence microscopy, allowing to see beyond the diffraction limit of light. While there currently are many nanoscopy methods that circumvent this limitation, they all have trade-offs between resolution, speed, field of view, biocompatibility, sensitivity, and experimental complexity. To push the technology further, the lab explores new approaches ranging from image analysis routines (to extract richer structural and mechanistic information of protein complexes, interactions and assemblies); to the synergistic integration of photonic nano-structures. In the biology side, we are interested in T cells.
There are two major thrust areas in designing nanoscale affinity biosensors. The first is to reduce the detection limit and the second is the ability to detect a number of analytes in the same sample, which is known as multiplexing. Multiplexing is important because reliable diagnosis of disease often requires identification of the levels of a number of molecular markers. The lab seeks to tackle both of these areas by designing portable cost-effective optical sensing devices using a combination of nano-scale technologies (including DNA-origami and photonic nanostructures) for inserting different functionalities and enhancing detection efficiencies with deep learning for effective analysis of high-noise fluorescent/Raman images/signals.
Nanomaterials hold a lot of promise in the field of cancer treatment and other complex diseases. They have been successfully used in photo-thermal therapies to kill cancer cells selectively; as vehicles to deliver cytotoxic drugs to sites of tumour growth; or as artificial antigen presenting cells to elicit adaptive immune responses. However, to date there are very few actively targeted nanomaterials approved for clinical use and this is because there is a lack of knowledge about their behaviour in the biological environment. While Dr. Simoncelli has experienced in the manipulation of biomaterials with nano-scale heating (for example by using metallic nanostructures to control the melting and/or stretching of double-stranded DNA) the lab is now interested in exploring smart nanomaterials, designed to elicit an immune response, by characterising their interaction with T cells.