30.08.2022

“The face of a modern Renaissance man” – an interview with Dr. Jakub Bogusławski, engineer of useful lasers

Jakub Boguslawski, Ph.D., is a scientist and engineer working on a new generation of compact, femtosecond fiber lasers for biomedical applications. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Physical Optics and Biophotonics group at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER), and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Electronics, Photonics, and Microsystems at Wrocław University of Science and Technology. In a recent interview for Poland Weekly, ICTER head Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski described Jakub as one of the representatives of the group who are pioneering unprecedented solutions and highlighted that “these small miracles are done by them every day, when they finish one, they start a new challenge” which proves their exceptionality. Jakub deals with a field of science that arouses a lot of emotions, both positive and negative; it is a field so far little understood by the general public, but invariably associated with solutions of the future and modern technology. We are aware that lasers can be deadly weapons, but we also have an idea that they can be used for other purposes. We talk about one of these useful purposes of lasers with Jakub Bogusławski in an interview in which he tells us about the underpinnings of his work and introduces us to the image of a man who builds lasers for the benefit of society.

Jakub, you work at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) designing lasers, a rather unobvious connection, as it is difficult at first glance to find a common ground between these two worlds. So tell us, what do lasers and eyes have in common, and isn’t this combination destructive?

On the contrary. On the one hand, if we recall the lasers presented in movies and imagine the laser beam hitting the human eye, we become concerned that the organ would be irreparably damaged. However, let’s not succumb to the illusion of Hollywood fiction. Of course, lasers can be harmful to the human body at a high dose of energy. However, the development of science and a better understanding of the functioning of living organisms has allowed us to create conditions in which this type of energy is harmless and even proves useful. Examples include early diagnosis of eye diseases or developing new ophthalmic therapies.

So, to the question of what lasers and eyes have in common, the answer is that the contact of a laser light beam with the human eye can provide a lot of helpful information. How does this happen? The introduction of laser light into the eye, specifically into the retina and retinal pigment epithelium, results in fluorescence excitation. The fluorescence is emitted by naturally occurring fluorophores present in the eye. On its way out of the eye, the light is recorded using a highly sensitive photodetector, a photomultiplier. The optical system used here is called a scanning laser ophthalmoscope and is an entirely non-invasive and non-contact system. It first feeds light into the eye in the right way and then leads the light from the eye to the photodetector. The whole process is based on guiding light into and out of the eye, then the resulting data is processed in a computer, and we get an image that can then be analyzed and interpreted. The optical system is a bit similar to the OCT currently used in ophthalmologists’ offices. However, we only use a different light to excite and record the effects occurring in the eye. This phenomenon is called two-photon excited fluorescence.

Tell us what you do in your work.

I am a laser engineer, and I am involved in designing and developing new configurations of femtosecond lasers, that is, lasers that generate very short pulses of light. In the context of eye research, this property is beneficial because it solves the problem of lack of access to fluorophores in the retina and retinal pigment epithelium. The retina is at the back of the eye, and various fluorophores provide information about the functioning of that retina so that we can identify what changes occur there. The technical challenge is that those fluorophores can be stimulated using UV light because they absorb light in the range of these wavelengths. Nevertheless, such radiation cannot be shone into a person’s eye because it has high energy and would immediately destroy it. We have discovered that by using ultrashort infrared pulses, this problem can be solved by two-photon absorption, using two photons of half the energy, which is safe for the human eye. With this technology, we can safely bring this light into the eye and access those fluorophores that we could not access before. This is complementary information that, in other ways, no one could get in a way safe for human vision, at least at the moment. And this is precisely what femtosecond pulses are needed for, with adequately selected parameters: they must be calibrated in the right spectral range, very short, and with a specific repetition rate. Such lasers so far did not exist, they could not be bought, and we undertook to design and construct a special laser with precisely these parameters, which are optimal.

A whole group of people under the leadership of professor Grzegorz Soboń at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology was involved in constructing the first laser with the parameters mentioned above. Although I was not involved in the first stages, having joined the team in Wrocław more than a year ago, I am now engaged in the engineering and construction this type of system. All the components needed for the construction of this laser are commercially available; nevertheless, since it is a fiber laser, its construction is based on different types of optical fibers, which need to be adequately designed, and then combined to shape the radiation properly. It is a proprietary, high-precision, and high-tech art of engineering.

What values guide you in your scientific work?

I think it would be the usefulness. I want the things I do to be useful to someone, to create new opportunities, and to solve existing problems. What we are doing at ICTER is an excellent example because it is not art for art’s sake or science for science’s sake, but we have a specific problem to solve. Our goal is fundamental: to protect people’s eyesight, help diagnose eye diseases and develop new ophthalmic therapies.

What are the biggest challenges and most beautiful aspects of scientific work?

The biggest challenge for all scientists is to know what problem to tackle because the number of possibilities is enormous, and humanity already knows a great deal. Identifying a problem and defining it, then choosing whether this path we want to take makes sense, whether anyone needs it, whether it has a chance of succeeding, or whether it is worth pursuing, is perhaps the most challenging question. In particular, there are also huge costs along the way because this research is expensive, and many people are involved. Much time is devoted to it, and at the beginning, it is unclear whether it makes sense, whether it can be done, or whether it will not be a wasted effort. On the other hand, this can also lead to those most beautiful aspects of scientific work, because working on a scientific problem can go in such an unexpected direction. We can encounter a lot of surprises and unforeseen twists and turns. We can plan something for ourselves, and later it turns out we are somewhere else than we thought we would be. For a scientist, this is fascinating.

Tell us about your passions outside of work.

My biggest passion is food, which means both cooking and eating. I like to read books about cuisine and watch cooking shows. When I travel, I try to find out what is typical food in a particular place and why people eat it; it interests me. Besides, I also do sports of various kinds, such as running, hiking, biking, and water sports, especially windsurfing. I have participated in several marathons.

I see that your eyes have two different colors. What is the reason for this condition, and how do you feel about having such outstanding eyes? Did it influence your decision to do research specifically on eyesight?

Dr. Jakub Bogusławski. Photo: Dr. Karol Karnowski

This effect is called heterochromia, a genetic defect that occurs in less than 1% of the population, but it does not affect vision or have any effects other than the different colored irises. Occasionally someone will notice that one is green and the other brown, but most people do not react to my eyes at all. This condition did not influence my decision to work at ICTER. I am here by accident. I only deal with eyes because I deal with lasers, and the utility of lasers in the context of eye research led me to our centre. These lasers I am constructing could be useful for seeing something more in the human eye than we could see before.

What are your career plans for the next ten years?

First of all, I want the results of my work to be useful. I want to construct devices that will work and can be used by someone. I want these lasers to be able to do something good for society. I dream that the things I construct will be helpful and practically used. For example, the new fluorescence imaging of the eye, can be used clinically and get information that will help diagnose ocular diseases earlier. More broadly, I would like to look for new practical applications of these lasers that we can build because they are quite unique, so these features can be used somewhere it really makes sense. Such a laser is quite complicated, quite expensive, so I would like to find such applications that give enough new information and possibilities that it makes practical sense to use them.

At the moment, I plan to further develop my career in Poland, you can do research here at a very good level, and I feel good here. I have traveled abroad several times for scientific internships, including working at the University of California Irvine in Prof. Krzysztof Palczewski’s group, where we built a similar set-up to the one we have in Warsaw. Since there is an ophthalmology department, ophthalmic companies and doctors are working there, it is a good place to test this method on patients with eye diseases. Previously, I also trained in Stockholm at the Royal Institute of Technology KTH, Aalto University in Finland, and Helmholtz-Zentrum in Dresden. All of these visits involved the development of new types of lasers or developing femtosecond pulse shaping techniques.

I am just starting an NCN-funded grant in which my team of 3 and I will work on a new class of laser for two-photon excited fluorescence ophthalmoscopy. We want to develop a “smart” femtosecond laser that can adapt its parameters by itself to the object being imaged. The title of the grant is “Adaptive femtosecond pulse source for multiphoton fluorescence microscopy and ophthalmoscopy,” and the project will be carried out at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology. So the implementation of this grant is undoubtedly one of the plans for the next few years.

Thank you for this interview, Jakub. I am uplifted by your attitude and wish you good luck with all your plans.

Although he is developing laser technologies of the future that will shape the progress of ophthalmology, Dr. Jakub Bogusławski is a humble scientist. The greatest value that guides his work is utility directed at solving existing research problems. Through it, he shifts the hitherto existing boundaries of science. To Jakub and his teams from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology and ICTER, we owe the invention of lasers whose beams can be shone harmlessly into the human eye to gain crucial information for advancing the early diagnosis and developing new therapies for eye diseases.

The interview with Dr. Jakub Bogusławski was conducted by Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz

Photos: Dr. Karol Karnowski

10.08.2022

Successful science communication – interview with Brook Hardwick, Head of ICFO’s Corporate Communications

Those of our scientists whose earlier careers were associated with ICFO, a research centre of excellence launched in 2002 by the Government and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, have always held this institute in high regard for its professionalism in every aspect of its activities. As a result, we have also observed ICFO’s good communication practices, following their social media, website, and newsletters. As is often the case when admiring someone’s work, sooner or later, one finds a way to get closer and learn more, to study the ins and outs of their professional practice. A few months ago, we established direct contact with the Corporate Communications Unit, headed by Brook Hardwick, for more than 11 years. We are honored that Brook agreed to give us an interview and share her in-depth knowledge and extensive experience in promoting research and science. Her contribution can benefit both ours and other RDI centres, as ICFO represents some of the best European standards in science PR. Let us move on to the interview, during which Brook answers questions about what is most important in communicating knowledge, the challenges and fascinating aspects of her work, and what she wishes for herself as Head of ICFO’s Corporate Communications Unit in the future.

In your opinion, does the location affect the way science is communicated?

Our Communication team is diverse in terms of backgrounds, nationalities and ages and when we put our heads together, we are creative and highly productive- it is a great working environment. Our unit reflects the rest of our institute in this way- when you bring together highly motivated people who love what they do and enjoy collaborating with people who have different perspectives, there is no telling what you will come up with!

You worked at the Institute of Higher Business Studies (IESE) in Barcelona for more than 12 years. What are the most important learnings and PR strategies gained there, which prepared you for your current position at ICFO?

Both institutes have strategies focusing on institutional excellence and attention to detail, so while one institute focused on international business and the other on producing scientific advances at the very highest international level, some of the core tenets are the same. I have had the privilege of working with exceptionally smart and motivated people and to be in a position to document their advances and their stories. I have spent my entire adult life in very international surroundings which made it easy to slip into my current position at this amazingly international institute. Related to this, I have learned over the years to partner with colleagues with very different backgrounds than my own- colleagues in administration, researchers and students. I think that to work in a communications role, you need to be interested in people, their success stories and their ambitions. This for me has always been the best part of the job and has been an important strategic focus for both of these institutions.

What are the biggest challenges that you consider the Communication & PR divisions of scientific institutions are facing nowadays?

There are so many challenges- fake news and the danger of hype to begin with. Rigorous scientific journalism is competing for the attention of audiences who are accustomed to click-bait/sensationalized stories. Clearly, we have to uphold standards and focus on accuracy while finding new ways to reach wider audiences and tell our story in engaging ways. ICFOnians do basic and applied work in themes relevant to medicine and biology, advanced imaging techniques, information technologies and a range of environmental sensors, tunable and ultra-fast lasers, quantum science, photovoltaics and the properties and applications of nano-materials such as graphene, among others. In this long and incomplete list, there is some very sexy stuff, but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to get the media to pay attention if you are not announcing a cure to cancer or the discovery of a new planet.

What is your magic recipe for getting the general public interested in the world of science?

I am not sure we have a magic recipe but I would say that in the Communications team, we are very lucky to have a great science writer with a strong physics background who gets just as excited about cool findings as members of the ICFO research teams and works very hard to make sure that those ideas are well conveyed to a large range of audiences. It helps to have someone in the team who “speaks the language” of science. We are working more and more with multi-media and making sure that we have a strong digital presence so that our messages reach target audiences.
This is not just the goal of the Communications team. We have an amazing and proactive Knowledge and Tech Transfer team that the Communications unit actively supports. They have some members of the team that focus on Outreach activities for schools and the general public and others that work closely with companies to take scientific advances from the lab to industry. Knowledge and Technology Transfer is part of ICFO’s core mission as an institute.

How do scientists at your institution approach the promotion of research achievements, and what works best in terms of encouraging them to cooperate with your unit fully?

Our director has always seen the importance of communicating high-impact science- it is good to have the support from above when you need to convince a very busy scientist to participate in a communication initiative. That being said, most ICFO researchers are happy to see their important findings get attention and know that we are here to help.
At the same time, competitive funding agencies are increasingly demanding when it comes to the dissemination of the results of projects. Even the most reticent scientist understands that the general public is funding science and should have an idea of what their tax money is paying for.

What do you think are the five key elements of success in popularizing science?

a. Great raw material (cool science).
b. Scientists who know how to explain their research in a simple way.
c. Presenting science in a wide range of formats (videos, infographics, photos, insta-stories) to give the public “easy” ways to absorb and understand science.
d. Finding good partners – there are journalists doing great work and social media influencers who want to be affiliated with/ connected to new ideas. These relationships are important.
e. Creative outreach units that work with teachers and schools to present complicated topics to young minds.

What is your biggest dream as the Head of the Corporate Communications Unit at ICFO, meaning what impact you would like to achieve in the community?

My dream is that every person living in Barcelona would be just as proud of the science produced in their city as of the football played in Camp Nou.

On behalf of ICTER, thank you very much for your valuable insight, Brook.

Although our institutions are demonstrably different in size – there are twenty-five research groups at ICFO, while ICTER has five – we have a fundamental similarity: both centres’ Communications teams are passionate about presenting groundbreaking research and scientific discoveries in such a way that every person can understand their meaning, importance, and impact on the improvement of health, advancement of knowledge, and development of humanity.

Brook Hardwick. Image credit: ICFO| Vanessa Montero.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz, Communications & PR Manager at ICTER.

28.07.2022

“Prometheans of the future” – interview published in Poland Weekly magazine

On July 28th, 2022 the magazine the English-language magazine Poland Weekly published the article “Prometheans of the future. How an international team of scientists based in Poland fights a global battle for our eyes.” This material features a series of interviews with the Principal Investigators leading our five research groups. They talk about their research achievements, long-term goals, scientific challenges, dreams, and their concept of sight.

Read the article on Poland’s Weekly website.

19.07.2022

How to inhibit photoreceptor death? A new way to fight pigmentary retinopathy

Why do photoreceptors in the retina die? Can this process be inhibited? Research conducted by an international team of scientists, with the participation of Dr. Andrzej Foik of ICTER, may help develop therapies to slow vision loss.

Retinal degeneration is a multifaceted disorder with many etiologies, and it is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. Some cases of this retinal disorder have a genetic basis. Thus, mutations that cause photoreceptor death are well known. However, the pathophysiology within the retina and along the visual pathway has been impossible to decipher in the early stages of the disease.

In the paper, “Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice,” published in eNeuro, the researchers have studied the visual functions of the retina, midbrain, and visual cortex in animal models of retinal degeneration. The authors of the report are Henri Leinonen, David C. Lyon, Krzysztof Palczewski, and Andrzej Foik. The research is of great importance, as it could lead to the development of new diagnostic methods for early detection of eye diseases that cause blindness.

“We found that the visual system adapts to the loss of photoreception by increasing sensitivity, but simultaneously becomes deleteriously hyperactive. Understanding this mechanism could lead to therapeutic protection and restoration of vision,” says Andrzej Foik, Ph.D. of ICTER.

How does retinal degeneration occur?

Retinal degeneration is the result of several eye diseases that involve degradation of the retina and loss of photoreceptor function. The most common forms of retinal degeneration are macular degeneration (AMD; Age-Related Macular Degeneration) and pigmentary retinopathy (RP; Retinitis Pigmentosa). These diseases have quite diverse outcomes; with AMD there is a loss of central vision, while with RP the patient stops seeing peripherally.

The retina is the light-sensitive layer lining the inside back of the eye, containing the photoreceptors (cones and rods). These receptors catch the light and convert it into electrical impulses, which are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain. This is how we see the world. The central part of the retina is the macula, comprising an area about 5 mm in diameter that contains the greatest number of cone photoreceptors. The macula is responsible for the sharpest vision.

Macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease in which progressive death of photoreceptors is concentrated in the macula, resulting in deterioration of central vision and distorted images. Although its precise mechanism is unknown, AMD is considered the most common cause of irreversible vision loss after age 50. That is why it is essential to diagnose AMD as early as possible, so that appropriate treatment could be implemented to slow or halt progression of the disease.

Pigmentary retinopathy (RP), on the other hand, is an inherited disease of the retina, linked to various genetic syndromes. During its development, clusters of pigment (initially small) appear in the fundus, which thickens over time, preventing normal vision. The disease is highly variable in presentation, and many experienced ophthalmologists have trouble diagnosing it correctly. Patients with pigmentary retinopathy are often left with only limited central vision, or “tunnel vision,” which deteriorates over time. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for pigmentary retinopathy, although experimental gene therapies are being tested worldwide.

Visual pathway hyperexcitability

In the study “Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice,” an international team of scientists investigated the processes involved in early-stage pigmentary retinopathy in RhoP23H/WT mice, an animal model of the disease. The researchers used various diagnostic techniques – electroretinography (ERG), measurement of optomotor response (OMR), evoked visual potentials (VEP), and electrophysiology of single neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1).

The mice were divided into two groups: young (one-month-old) and adult (three-month-old). There was noticeable hypersensitivity to light (30% higher ERG values) and visual hyperactivity in the new cortex in all RhoP23H/WT mice, but the effect was more pronounced in the young animals.

“Our data suggest that the visual pathway becomes hyperactive during early RP. This may have both compensatory and detrimental consequences for visual behavior. Further research into the mechanisms of hyperactivity is warranted, as it may lead to therapeutic interventions in RP,” adds Andrzej Foik, Ph.D. of ICTER.

A complete understanding of pigmentary retinopathy offers a better chance of halting progression of the disease. Previous studies have shown that very high daily doses of vitamin A (15,000 IU/d) can slow the progression of RP by about 2% per year, but such an intervention must be considered carefully because high dose vitamin A is not without potential side effects to our liver. Thanks to the research in which Dr. Andrzej Foik participated, it will be possible to determine who is at risk for RP before the disease has even begun to manifest itself.

Author of the press release: Marcin Powęska

Photos: dr Karol Karnowski

Publication:

Henri Leinonen, David C. Lyon, Krzysztof Palczewski, Andrzej T. Foik
Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice, eNeuro 14 June 2022, 9 (3) ENEURO.0107-22.2022; DOI:
https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0107-22.2022

12.07.2022

Visit of prof. Brendan Kennedy

Associate professor Brendan Kennedy from The University of Western Australia, a renowned expert in biomedical optics and tissue biomechanics imaging and long-time collaborator of prof. Maciej Wojtkowski and dr Andrea Curatolo, visited the ICTER labs at Skierniewicka on July 4th, 2022. Here are some photos of the lab tour, where prof. Kennedy saw several imaging setups in some of the Physical Optics and Biophotonics, and Image-guided Devices for Ophthalmic Care labs’ projects. Dr Andrea Curatolo, dr Karol Karnowski, dr Piotr Ciąćka, PhD, mr Maciej Wielgo and mr Wiktor Kulesza presented the latest research advances. 

While visiting our centre, prof. Brendan Kennedy also gave a short interview on science PR, his connections with Poland, and the strengths of Polish scientists.

– Professor Brendan Kennedy, you mentioned the importance of positivity for scientists, can you develop this idea, please?

– In my experience researchers often spend their whole days in the labs, especially PhD students and postdocs, and it sometimes becomes difficult to make a connection between the impact they are trying to have as researchers. When your institute has a clear strategy towards publicizing the research that you do, it can really give scientists a boost and a kind of confidence, that the work that they do will have an impact in the world.

– What would be the Australian way in terms of science PR? What can we learn from you?

– I think everybody has their own specific style. I am actually from Ireland originally, so when I went to Australia, I saw that they do things differently and for me, one of the biggest differences between Australia and Europe is the positivity that people have. This approach also helps researchers to feel more secure that what they do is good, I think it comes more naturally to the Australians to be more positive, and to promote what they do. So in the Polish context, I am not sure exactly how it works, but I am confident that this way can have some positive impacts as well. 

– Do you have any Polish connections?

– Yes, my wife is from Poland, so I first came here eighteen years ago. I can see a lot of changes in this time, in the society and in the research as well. Changes for the better: it is much easier to get around, and visit places, also the amount of people who speak English now is much more significant than before.

– What are the three best qualities in Polish scientists for you?

– I think one is the attention to detail, the rigor. I worked with a quite a few Polish scientists: Maciej WojtkowskiKarol KarnowskiMaciej Szkulmowski, and others; and noticed that their deep understanding of the technical aspects allows Polish scientists to go to a lot of detail, and this is one thing that really strikes me. For me, Polish scientists are also very passionate, if they work on something that is motivating, they work really hard. Another important aspect is the team; when you are friends with Polish people, it helps to work much stronger; this team mentality is something I noticed as well. The smart way is that if we realize that we can achieve our personal aims more if we work together, it is much better.

I see you are a real strategist (he laughs). Thank you very much for your comments, Prof. Brendan Kennedy

The Interview was conducted by dr Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz.

22.06.2022

Behind the lens: getting to know a scientist through the prism of passion

In everyday life, he was a smiling but enigmatic colleague at work. At the coffee machine in the social kitchen, one could talk with him about scientific highlights, cinematography, and life in general. However, he only spoke when asked. Most often, deep in thought and concentration, he made himself a black coffee in a metal mug with the inscription “Best Dad” and a drawing of planets resembling illustrations from “The Little Prince”. On Monday mornings he would ask me politely and laconically how the weekend had gone. In answering, I felt he was observing more than listening. It was a challenge to get to know Karol’s personality and interests… until one day, quite by accident, I discovered that he was interested in photography. Then began an adventure that is gaining more and more momentum, and I suppose even Karol himself didn’t expect it to take us this far promotionally.

Administration staff at the ICTER & ISC 2022 Annual Meeting. Picture: Karol Karnowski.

When I first started working in the Communications and PR role, Karol didn’t say a word, and I wouldn’t even recognize his face. He waited out my entire probationary period at ICTER, as if he, too, was evaluating internally whether I would prove myself. No wonder – I am not a scientist, and was to communicate to the world what is the purpose of the scientific research conducted at the centre. After three months the review was positive and then Karol unexpectedly showed up in my office, neighboring his. From a casual conversation, it emerged that he had done his postdoctoral studies in Australia. With enthusiasm, he commented on how creatively and successfully the University of Western Australia promoted itself. He showed me a video of students running around the world chasing their dreams, neither defeated nor discouraged by the harsh conditions – red-hot desert, raging hurricane, snowy Siberian steppe, or New York’s cement jungle. The sparkle in Karol’s eyes made me think that here stood before me an unpolished PR diamond, full of passion and ideas for the promotion of our centre, worthy of the best Australian universities. I decided in spirit that we would create the conditions to polish this diamond.

We did not have to wait long, nor make any special effort, although we would willing to do it. Soon appeared a project of an interview with ICTER scientists for the MIT Management Review Poland magazine, and there was a need to present some photographs to illustrate the text. We did not have these photographs, but we had Karol. Invited to take them, he not only readily agreed, but also involved the entire centre, the management of our host Institute of Physical Chemistry, and half of the Wola district in his photographic session. It was July, the sun was blazing from the sky outside the windows, and the air-conditioning in the offices was freezing us off. Karol came to work laden with professional equipment (camera with lenses, tripod, flashes) and started spreading ideas for photographic shots, like a magician reaching for ever newer tricks to enchant the audience. Assisting him, I called the scientists working in the open-space at Skierniewicka to the laboratories, to operate the equipment and pose for pictures. It was heartening to watch how younger and older scholars actively and enthusiastically participated in the session. They all rose to the challenge side by side, realizing how important it is to show to external audiences what we do at ICTER, and why the research results published in world-class scientific journals (Nature, Optics Letters or eNeuro, etc.) and the latest technological solutions we develop, translate positively into the quality of life and visual health of society.

ICTER & ISC 2022 Annual Meeting. Picture: Karol Karnowski.

However, Karol was just getting started. It turned out that he had spent several afternoons before the session walking around Wola, looking for the best places for photographic frames. When the head of the ICTER, Professor Maciej Wojtkowski, and director Adam Kubas of the IPC PAS joined us, we set off on an artistic stroll. We walked along unfamiliar alleys and back streets until we came across a Parisian-style café garden, where we stopped for a café au lait. Karol, meanwhile, was busily working, appearing and disappearing, once behind a tree, once on the grass in a reclining position, in search of the perfect photo of the leader of our centre and our host institute, affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences. Then we headed to the surroundings of modern skyscrapers, with which Warsaw rivals Scandinavian business buildings. Karol was in his element, giving instructions on how to pose to our models. On our way back he led us to a building with an old brick texture, contrasting with the omnipresent stock exchange scenery, and to a nearby tunnel between buildings, where he took the best photo of Prof. Wojtkowski that I have seen so far.

Prof. Adam Kubas and Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski in Wola, Warsaw. Picture: Karol Karnowski.

A few days after the session, Karol handed over 90 photos and copyrights for us to promote the centre. Even though he acted as a hobbyist, he did his job in a fully professional manner, and ICTER finally got the quality of photos it deserves.

Now it’s time to give the floor to Karol himself to tell us how his love for photography started, and what he wants to convey to the world through it.

Karol Karnowski.

Karol, why do you take pictures? Where did this passion come from?

That is a difficult question. I take pictures because I like it, because it relaxes me and because I can make others happy with my photos. Many of my photos hang on the walls at my family and friends’ houses. Moreover, I have always felt that somewhere inside me there is an artist’s soul smouldering, and this job allows me to show a part of this soul outside.

You know, Ania, with photography you can create your own worlds. Ten people can see the same view, and ten photographers will show ten different worlds in their pictures. In Toruń, where I did my master and PhD, I took part in so-called Photo Walks. The walks are cyclical meetings of photography enthusiasts (from complete amateurs to experienced professionals). In such groups we were visiting selected districts of Toruń in order to immortalize them in many individual ways in photographs. The residents of Toruń visiting the exhibitions of our photographs were delighted and often moved by how nicely and unconventionally one can show the often unattractive at first sight corners of the City of Angels.

Since I was a child I felt a part of an artist in me, I tried various things until I found my inner haven: photography. In 2007 I bought my first decent camera and started to take pictures, mostly of my family. When I caught the bug, I started to invest in lenses, read a lot and experiment. It’s good to know the theory, but practice is the best. I’ve made countless mistakes, discovering what works and where I can go with my imagination. Through trial and error, I seem to have a better sense of how to approach the effects I want to achieve in a photograph.

Karol Karnowski.

How does being a scientist influence your sensibility and photographic craft?

What I do in my day job allows me to understand technology better, because dealing with optics affects the technical aspects of photography. When constructing different optical systems, there is always a bit of combining, looking for new ways of doing things. For example, my current photographic project focuses on symmetry achieved through simple image manipulation. I am creating new worlds with a trained method. I think I have developed a certain sense and sometimes I view a frame that I want to capture precisely in terms of its use in my symmetrical project.

Also, thanks to my academic work I am lucky to travel, get to know different worlds, people, habits other than in our country and this influences the way I look at the world, and allows me to take pictures that I wouldn’t take staying back home.

Piotr Węgrzyn photographed by Karol Karnowski.

ICTER’s stand at the Photonics Job Fair, Warsaw University of Technology. Picture: Karol Karnowski.

What do you want to communicate when you photograph the events and work of ICTER researchers?

Since the beginning of my PhD studies, I have taken a lot of photos for documentation or promotional purposes, such as for posters for conferences. When photographing the work of researchers and scientists at ICTER, I want to show that we are normal and cool people – which is true. I want to reflect in the picture that we can have fun doing complicated experiments and taking pictures as well, and that we do awesome things and have fabulous equipment, thanks to which we create a magical world.

During the last session with Piotr Węgrzyn we were a little concerned if we would get the desired effect on the pictures. We had a lot of fun painting with light, and we enjoyed the fact that we can achieve Photoshop-like effects directly on the photo.

Piotr Węgrzyn in the optical lab photographed by Karol Karnowski.

A year ago you started taking pictures for ICTER. Your first session was published in MIT Sloan Management Review Poland. I remember those lab photos, they were quieter, more focused on showing the whole group, with as much equipment as possible, set up. They were nicely shot, but conservative. Over time you have improved more and more technically and artistically. Your most recent photo session illustrating a press release for our publication in Optics Letters went to Phot.org and EurekAlert reaching an audience of 4.8 million. These photos are completely different: adventurous, with a claw, an element of wildness, astonishing, dazzling with the play of light and movement. What is behind this metamorphosis of your identity as a photographer?

It’s tough to give a quick and simple answer here. The session for MIT was realized a bit on the fly and without much preparation. As you noticed the shots were more filled with people. In the rather cramped lab space, there is not much room to work with a larger number of people. Also, this was the first session of this type for me with the idea of using the photos for some popular article. I’ve done some photography in labs before, but it was more of an incidental experience. The last session, when I photographed Piotr – special thanks to Bartek Bałamut for help with this session – was different. First of all I photographed one person. We had more time for rehearsals, settings, more time for crazy ideas. The session also had a very precise theme – it was meant to be about a specific publication. I think that’s why I prepared myself for it more than for the previous “let’s make some photos in the lab” session. Undoubtedly the fact that I have a clear understanding of the experiments described in the publication helped.

Piotr Węgrzyn photographed by Karol Karnowski.

Can we say that you specialize in science photography?

After the first photos (those intended for publication at MIT) there was a buzz that maybe we should do more in this direction to promote and spread the work of ICTER. I think that triggered ideas in my head about what kind of photos could be taken of individuals from the centre. I did the last session in that spirit, but I still have many new ideas. Who knows, maybe some of them will come to life. Science photography is an interesting niche in the market. Usually photos of scientists are static, typically classic portraits. Not everyone pays attention to the power of promotion, and in my opinion we should use this potential all the more because we honestly have something to be proud of.

Lab session for the MIT Sloan Management Review Poland. Picture: Karol Karnowski.

What do you wish for yourself as a photographer in the future?

I dream of a photographic studio with lots of space to realize the oddest ideas. I would like to grow as a photographer. I like playing with associations, looking for symmetry, forms, colors, shades, contrasts and abstract atmosphere. For now, it’s a hobby, I don’t have much time, but there are many projects. When I retire, I dream about photographing landscapes, for example Polish mountains, Scottish landscapes or exotic climates. For such pictures the key to success is to be in the right place at the right time. I remember how a few years ago my friends and I drove through the night to get there before dawn to photograph the Grand Canyon bathed in the first rays of the rising sun.

Thank you for this interview Karol and I wish you to raise your photographic bar higher and higher each year until you take that unique, perfect, one in a hundred thousand, worthy of the International Photography Awards, most beautiful photograph.

Karol Karnowski.

Author: Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz.

Interviewee: Karol Karnowski.

Instagram profile: Karo Karnow (@karo_karnow) • Zdjęcia i filmy na Instagramie.

20.05.2022

How to assess if photoreceptors are functioning properly – Breakthrough technique for diagnosing eye diseases

Can non-functioning photoreceptors be detected like dead pixels on a camera sensor? Until now this has not been possible, but a new technique will allow fast and non-invasive assessment of the physiological state of the retina. This could be a real breakthrough in the treatment of eye diseases.

For a long time, electroretinography (ERG) was the only advanced method to assess the physiological state of retinal function. In recent years, a new technique called optoretinography (ORG) has been developed. In one variant of this technique, optical coherence tomography (OCT), the physiological response of the retinal photoreceptors to visible light is measured as a change in optical path length in the nanometer range.

Until now, the ability to study the retinal ORG response to flicker light stimulation has been limited. However, researchers at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) have developed the method of Spatio-Temporal Optical Coherence Tomography (STOC-T), a variant of Full-Field OCT that they pioneered, to record retinal flicker optoretinograms.

The research was carried out by Dr Slawomir Tomczewski, Piotr Wegrzyn, Dr David Borycki, Dr Egidijus Auksorius, Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski and Dr Andrea Curatolo of ICTER, and the results have been published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express in an article entitled, “Light-adapted flicker optoretinograms captured with a spatio-temporal optical coherence-tomography (STOC-T) system” (https://doi.org/10.1364/BOE.444567).

How to study electrical signals of photoreceptors

Electrophysiological examinations of the eye (ERG) are comprised of a group of recordings of light-induced changes in functional currents generated in the retina, the part of the eye responsible for reception of visual stimuli. These currents are transmitted to the visual area of the cerebral cortex, and then to oculomotor muscles.  The study of these retinal currents are of particular interest for diagnosis of eye diseases. The most important elements of the retina are light-sensitive photoreceptor cells, which are modified neurons called cones and rods. The human retina contains about 6 million cones and 100 million rods.

Rods are responsible for black and white vision. They are most numerous in the peripheral parts of the retina and absent in the central fovea. They contain the abundant light-responsive protein rhodopsin, whose biochemical transformations are responsible for initiating vision. The cones, on the other hand, are primarily in the central part of the retina and are responsible for color vision. They contain pigments that are sensitive to the primary colors: blue, green and red. Localized mostly in the macula, the cones are also responsible for visual acuity.

Assessing the quality of the photoreceptors is crucial because their dysfunctions are linked to various eye diseases, some leading to blindness. ERG is the most common type of electrophysiological examination, recording the functional electrical potential created in the eyeball under the influence of light stimuli. The test itself involves placing on the eye an electrode in the form of a contact lens or a nylon thread saturated with a conductive agent (DTL electrode) and sending light pulses from a lamp emitting red light. The light stimuli include a short flash (1-3 msec), a double flash, or a flickering flash (ERG flash); as well as a checkerboard pattern of brightening and darkening squares. A special device reads the voltage values produced by these impulses.

Photoreceptors as dead pixels

Unfortunately, the ERG test cannot detect the faster conformational changes and contractions of the photoreceptors that result from light exposure on the retina and thus propagate the visual process. However, these fast physical changes, likely induced by the first steps in the phototransduction process, are accessible by optical investigation with ORG, which measures light-induced optical signals from photoreceptors.

Measurements of the retinal response to a flickering stimulus have proven helpful in analyzing retinal adaptation to light and differences in critical flicker frequency (CFF) between the macula and periphery. To date, a limited number of ORG studies using flicker have been reported in the literature. Of these, one ORG study measured the photoreceptor response to a periodic stimulus limited to a single low frequency (5 Hz), while two more recent ORG studies measured either the dark-adapted photoreceptor response between 1  and 6.6 Hz, or the slow response of the inner plexiform layer between 1 and 50 Hz, respectively. It has not been possible to measure the fast retinal ORG response at frequencies above 10 Hz, until now.

The ICTER scientists preadapted the eyes of volunteer human subjects to a bright light for a minute and then stimulated the retina with a visible light flickering at a constant frequency.  They were thus able to record retinal ORG responses at frequencies up to 30 Hz. This protocol made it possible to determine changes in the optical thickness of the photoreceptors on the order of a few nanometers in response to a visual signal at higher flicker frequencies than ever before reported. This advanced technology enabled the determination of both the spatial and temporal responses of the retinal photoreceptor, over time-scales and frequencies that correlate with the first steps of the phototransduction process, which is the vital engine of vision.

For the first time tiny contractions and expansions of photoreceptors could be observed in a healthy human retina following light stimulation at frequencies up to 30Hz, and these could be mapped over different areas of the retina. This feat has not been achieved by anyone before. “Nor would it have been possible without the previous research of the ICTER scientists and their development of the STOC-T technique, with its exquisite sub-nanometer displacement sensitivity, high phase stability, and impressive volumetric acquisition speed, in the order of a few milliseconds,” said Dr Andrea Curatolo, head of the Image-guided Devices for Ophthalmic Care Laboratory at ICTER.

ICTER researchers have shown that statistically significant differences in the amplitudes of photoreceptor optical path length modulation in response to different flicker frequencies can be detected in light-adapted eyes with a better signal-to-noise ratio than in dark-adapted eyes. These results highlight the prospect of a more objective study of CFF changes across the retina, which could enable early detection of retinal degeneration and other photoreceptor abnormalities.

The team of ICTER scientists is already planning further research work to advance understanding of the biological and medical implications of the photoreceptor behavior observed via STOC-T, anticipating further insights on fundamental vision science and development of novel biomarkers of early vision impairment.

Author: Marcin Powęska

Photo: Karol Karnowski

Publication:

Title: “Light-adapted flicker optoretinograms captured with a spatio-temporal optical coherence-tomography (STOC-T) system”.

Journal: Biomedical Optics Express Vol. 13,Issue 4,pp. 2186-2201(2022)

Authors: Sławomir Tomczewski, Piotr Węgrzyn, Dawid Borycki, Egidijus Auksorius, Maciej Wojtkowski, and Andrea Curatolo.

DOI number: https://doi.org/10.1364/BOE.444567

30.03.2022

Prof. Krzysztof Palczewski is the 2022 winner of the Goodman and Gilman Award in Receptor Pharmacology

The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) awarded Dr. Krzysztof Palczewski from the University of California, Irvine, the 2022 Goodman and Gilman Award in Receptor PharmacologyThe Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman Award in Receptor Pharmacology was established in 1980 to recognize and stimulate outstanding research in pharmacology of biological receptors. Such research might provide a better understanding of the mechanisms of biological processes and potentially provide the basis for the discovery of drugs useful in the treatment of diseases.

Dr. Palczewski is receiving this award in recognition of his innovative and pathfinding studies on mechanisms of activation of G protein-coupled receptors that have advanced understanding of receptor structure, signaling mechanism, defects that lead to disease, and treatments that preserve vision.

Dr. Palczewski is a Donal Bren Professor and Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, holds the Irving H. Leopold Chair of Ophthalmology, and is the Director of the Center for Translational Vision Research at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.  He received his PhD in biochemistry at the Technical University of Wroclaw, Poland and did postdoctoral training at the University of Florida.

Dr. Palczewski’s research utilizes a variety of multidisciplinary approaches to study phototransduction and the visual cycle to characterize the visual system in health and disease. Pursuit of such a comprehensive understanding of vision, including gene expression and transcriptional regulation, is essential to combat genetic defects, metabolic aberrations, and environmental insults leading to blindness. He has identified elements of the signaling pathways of the visual system, through targeted structural biology at different levels of resolution, obtained with classical and time-resolved crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, and cellular cryo-electron tomography. By studying a precise structural and functional account of the participating retinal cells and their intracellular organization with two-photon in vivo and ex vivo microscopy, his work has made groundbreaking advances to recognize biochemical perturbations for early diagnosis of ocular diseases and stratification of patients for the discovery and validation of pharmacological treatments and to prevent retinal degenerative diseases.

Dr. Palczewski has been a member of ASPET since 2015.

The award will be presented at the ASPET Business Meeting and Awards Presentation during the ASPET Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2022 on Saturday, April 2 at 4:30 pm in Philadelphia. Additionally, Dr. Palczewski will deliver the award lecture titled G Protein–coupled Receptor Signaling in Phototransduction at the 2022 annual meeting on Sunday, April 3 at 1:00 pm in Philadelphia.

Professor K. Palczewski is the Co-Founder of ICTER. We sincerely congratulate him on receiving this prestigious award.

Source: ASPET | 2022 Award Winners