Interview with Laura Marcu, UC Davis Professor.
Dr. Laura Marcu is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UC Davis, and she also holds a joint appointment as a Professor of Neurological Surgery in the School of Medicine. Dr. Marcu serves as a Co-leader of the Biomedical Technology Program at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and Domain Leader of the University of California Center for Accelerated Innovation. She is a fellow of the Optical Society of America (OSA), the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE), the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).
In April 2018, professor Marcu was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) at a ceremony in Washington, DC. Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and society. NAI aims to enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation.
We talked with professor Marcu about her research and her accomplishments.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I was born in Romania in a small village – Greci, Tulcea. I obtained my baccalaureate from Liceul Vasile Alecsandri in Galati, and the Diploma of Engineer in Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest. I completed a post-graduate specialization in spectroscopy, lasers, and plasma physics at the University of Bucharest. After moving to the United States, I received a Masters of Science (MS) degree and a PhD (doctorate) in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I joined UC Davis in 2006, after working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Southern California where I started my academic career. It has been a long journey!
Q: You are very passionate about your work and received numerous awards and recognitions. Please tell us more about your work.
A: My work includes teaching and research – and more specifically, research focused on the development of optical techniques for tissue diagnostics. My laboratory has developed time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy systems for in vivo tissue interrogation, including studies in human patients. We have applied these technologies in clinical studies for the characterization and diagnosis of atherosclerotic plaques, intra-operative delineation of brain tumors, and intra-operative diagnosis of head and neck tumors. Many of our studies are done in collaboration with clinical departments such as various surgical departments, cardiology, and pathology. This allows us to seamlessly integrate the end-users’ feedback into the technology development process. More recently, we developed a catheter probe capable of imaging arteries inside a living heart, tool that could help cardiologists predict heart attacks more reliably.
Our lab has broad expertise in clinical translation of biophotonic technologies that play an important role in addressing challenges associated with in vivo disease diagnostics and therapies.
Q: What is the significance of your recent election as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors?
A: My election as a Fellow of NAI is a recognition of my passion for developing new technologies that can impact the diagnosis and management of human diseases. I have been very honored. Translating research and technology development into clinical setting is an arduous process that takes many years to complete. It is very rewarding to see biophotonic devices engineered in my lab used in patients, and hope that our devices will impact the way patients are diagnosed and treated and save lives not very far in the future.
Q: What advice do you have for the next generation of scientists (including Romanian scientists) who are just starting their education and/or careers?
A: I would encourage them to pursue a field they are passionate about. Be creative, work hard, and persevere despite many challenges along the way. Trust yourself. Find mentors whose work and/or character are inspiring. Be inquisitive and consider the wide array of career pathways available to scientists today – you could contribute as a teacher, scientist, policy maker, science advocate, and more, in academia, industry, government agencies, or non-profit sector. The possibilities are endless.