Project leader: dr. Matjaž Humar

Duration:  01.05.2020 – 31.05.2025, ERC StG (GA851143)

Recently, micro-sized lasers have been integrated into biological systems including cells and tissues. Currently, the most frequently used techniques to study complex processes in live cells employ fluorescent probes. However, fluorescent probes have several disadvantages including photobleaching, sensitivity to environmental factors, potential phototoxicity, and broad emission spectrum, which limits their sensitivity, multiplexing ability, and imaging capabilities in biological tissues. The transition from detecting laser emission from bio-integrated lasers instead of fluorescence represents a paradigm shift. Due to narrow emission linewidth, high coherence, large intensity, and highly nonlinear output from lasers, they open huge opportunities in ultrasensitive sensing, spectral multiplexing, and microscopy. The applicant has recently for the first time demonstrated a laser completely embedded inside a live human cell.

However, to date it has only been demonstrated that laser light can be generated within the cell, but not how is the laser output coupled to the biophysical and biochemical processes inside cells.

The goal of Cell-Lasers is to study these intimate interactions including forces acting within cells, properties of natural cavities in lipid droplets, and the intracellular chemical environment. Since the spectral positions of laser lines do not change with propagation through scattering and absorbing media, the cell lasers will enable multiplexed sensing, tracking, and localization of cells embedded deep inside tissues.

In the long term Cell-Lasers aim to transform the bio-integrated lasers from being a pure scientific curiosity into a powerful tool for the study of biophysical and biochemical processes taking place on a single-cell level.