Compact THz based systems for neuroscience applications

Lead Research Organisation: Aston University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Applied Science


Following the EPSRC Grant EP/H015795/1 and FP7 project No 285974 'TERA', our group has developed new compact semiconductor quantum-dot lasers and antennas for the THz sources, and acquired an outstanding equipment and experience in the field of THz research and its applications. Within this project, we will implement all our existing setups and knowledge to cover THz region - from 0.1 to 5 THz. Our preliminary experiments with THz time-domain spectroscopic (THz-TDS) setup and optical-pump-THz-probe experiments showed the ability to see and resolve spectral features, as well as minor and fast changes in them. A major part of this research programme will be to implement these techniques for biological samples and perform not only straightforward spectroscopic and THz-TDS measurements, but also all kinds of pump-probe experiments, involving all broad variety of sources at hand to serve as either pump or probe beams: optical pump -THz probe, THz pump - THz probe, IR pump - THz probe, and other combinations of pump and probe beams to check the affect onto cell cultures and tissues. The main target of the project is to develop the clear and simple diagnostic tools for structural brain recognition and investigate the THz radiation treatment properties on bio-materials.

Planned Impact

This research will lead to the creation of new THz-derived technologies in the healthcare sector. The key beneficiaries of this research will be patients (an enhanced quality of life and better treatment through potentially quicker and safer diagnosis) and the NHS (cost reductions derived from improved diagnostic technologies and improved treatment regimens; and also not less importantly from reduced energy consumption. The latter in its own turn minimises climate change thus improving the environment and population health). For example, a key medical application in surgery has been identified, which should benefit the patient through the use of less invasive surgical techniques, and benefit surgeons by allowing precise diagnosis of tissues prior to excision making the operation more efficient and improving patient outcomes
Building on our existing relationships, the collaboration between Aston-UCL-Innolume-M-Squared-TeraView-Tydex and other internationally recognised institutions offers an opportunity to develop agenda-setting ideas in this field. The novel methodologies described in the proposal are expected to offer the new knowledge base within THz spectroscopy and its applications for biomedical studies, such as cell and tissue characterisation, as well as the scenario of the interaction of THz radiation with biological tissues. We believe that performance on this scale fulfilled by the results of laboratory tests run with available devices would establish this concept at the forefront of developments of compact and robust THz based systems that have the potential to broaden the range of feasible and practical applications in the biomedicine.
We anticipate that our commercial partners in the project will receive direct benefit from their involvement in the short to medium term. In the longer term, UK and EU industry and commerce would stand to gain from increased application of compact, low-cost THz laser sources in a widening range of high-technology products.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. An estimated 37 million people worldwide currently suffer from dementia; AD affects about 18 million of them. AD is a disease associated with ageing and it affects 5% of individuals aged 65 and above and 35% of individuals aged 80 and above, however; the number of individuals with Alzheimer's disease is expected to almost double to 34 million by 2025, with around 1 million new cases per year by 2050.
There are currently in excess of 150,000 patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) in the UK, a number that is set to rise, and both the human and financial costs due to this are substantial. The annual cost of nursing home care for PD in the UK is estimated to be ~ £600-800 million. A recent study in Germany estimated the socioeconomic burden at 20,095 Euros (£16,400) per patient per year, and with an ageing population worldwide this represents a very substantial cost to society. To date, available treatments for PD or AD are palliative in nature, relieving the symptoms but only postponing mortality. A cure for PD and AD is, therefore, of great importance, with information about the aetiology of diseases a crucial factor in developing such a treatment. Both AD and PD are complex diseases and while research in the field has significantly progressed in recent years, the mechanisms of neurodegeneration remain controversial. The proposed experiments should illuminate fundamental aspects of the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and will potentially help providing new avenues for both prevention and targeted treatment of the disease.
We believe that this project has the significant academic impact in terms of advancing methods and knowledge in this field of biology. However, it also has potentially significant societal and economic impact mainly through its beneficial applications to the healthcare of the nation.


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