Larin expands Optics research

Under the direction of Professor Kirill Larin, the Cullen College of Engineering’s Biomedical Optics Laboratory is home to an entire realm of innovative medical research.

"Our primary objective is to develop noninvasive, early detection methods to diagnose various diseases," said Larin, assistant professor of Biomedical, Mechanical, Electrical and Computer Engineering.

For many diseases, such as cancer, early detection significantly increases the chance of survival. For instance, mammography, an imaging technique that uses a low-dose x-ray, has become the standard of breast cancer detection.

Most of the projects at Biomedical Optics Laboratory involve the use of Optical Coherence Tomography, a non-invasive and high resolution imaging technique. Developed in 1991, this technology is used to obtain detailed structural images of many tissue types.

"One of our projects involves the use of Optical Coherence Tomography to detect abnormalities in the heart of the developing embryo," Larin said. "OCT makes it possible to view fine details that we would not have been able to observe with any other imaging techniques at this level of resolution coupled with the imaging depth."

Of Larin’ s most notable research is his ongoing project to detect decompression sickness in a person before symptoms develop. Decompression sickness is a disorder that occurs when the body’s pressure fluctuates rapidly. Under the basic laws of physics, at higher pressures air molecules are better dissolved in the blood; therefore, the blood contains more gas molecules than in normal conditions. If a person ascends to a lower pressured environment too quickly, molecules such as nitrogen will form bubbles in the blood and tissue, causing tissue injury or blocking blood supply to organs. Symptoms can range from joint pain to memory loss, seizures and, in extreme cases, death. Divers, astronauts, pilots and mine workers are the most common victims of this type of illness.

In 2007, the U.S. Navy granted Larin $400,000 to develop an optical, laser-based technique that could be able to detect the sickness in seconds. By shining a laser on the skin, the device would detect minute nitrogen bubbles in blood and tissue using OCT technology.

Originally from Russia, Larin received his master’s in Laser Physics and Mathematics with honors from Saratov State University in 1995. In 2002, he obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Larin has been a professor at UH since 2004.

Larin and his colleagues are also involved in research that would increase the success of in vitro fertilization.

"We have recently developed a phase sensitive Fourier domain OCT biosensor that would allow us to view both structural and functional images and to monitor small changes in the developing embryo. By evaluating this information, we would determine the most viable embryos to implant, increasing the chance of a successful pregnancy," Larin said.

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