VBRN News & Highlights

Michael Durst Awarded $381,000 NIH R15 Grant

Dr. Michael Durst, Assistant Professor of Physics at Middlebury College, received an R15 AREA grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which will fund his research over the next three years.

The grant entitled, “Volumetric Temporal Focusing Microscopy for Fluorescence-guided Surgery” totals $381,280. This was Durst’s second R15 submission and as he describes, the reviews from the first proposal really shaped his revision application. “The reviewers from the original proposal noted that [my] approach needs to also solve a biologically relevant problem.  In my resubmission, I focused on applying this technique to fluorescence-guided surgery. Directly and concretely addressing the reviewers’ concerns was described favorably in the summary statement of the funded proposal.”

Durst’s project uses lasers to image through biological tissue and has a public health implication for cancer margin detection. As he states, “We are developing tools for fluorescence-guided surgery, in which the tissue targeted for biopsy is brightly labeled with a dye. Such an approach allows the surgeon to minimize the amount of tissue removed and to maintain as much functionality of the area as possible. While current implementations of fluorescence-guided surgery can provide real-time wide-field images, it lacks the ability to differentiate between signal from the surface of the tissue versus deeper layers, which is essential for cancer margin detection.”

Durst is doing this research in collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Samkoe at Dartmouth College, whom he met by networking with her colleague at a VBRN Faculty Retreat. Samkoe plays a critical role in this project; she introduced Durst to the field of fluorescence-guided surgery and will provide samples for his lab to image. In addition to connecting Durst to his R15 collaborator, he credits VBRN funding for allowing him to buy equipment, collect preliminary data, and publish his technique with student co-authors to make his R15 proposal successful. 

Durst applies his strong belief in the value of research as part of an undergraduate education by involving students every step of the way in his projects. This grant will fund nine student researchers in his lab over the summer and many others throughout the academic year. Through this hands-on experience, students will learn everything ranging from how to assemble the microscope from scratch to measuring the pulse width of the laser to imaging the tissue samples. As Durst notes, “By funding this project at Middlebury, the NIH will provide new opportunities for biomedical imaging research and will encourage physics majors and other students to pursue NIH-funded research fields.”