Using Light to Deliver Lifesaving Drug Treatments (Supported by the Gapontsev Family Collaborative Venture Fund)



Valentin Gapontsev, who received an honorary Doctor of Engineering Degree from WPI in 2001, was an internationally recognized physicist widely known as the “Father of the Fiber Laser Industry.” In 2001, with the burgeoning job market in photonics and the need for greater photonics research, Gapontsev began a long partnership and record of generous support with WPI. It started with the establishment of the IPG Photonics Laboratory, located in Olin Hall, a valuable academic resource for teaching photonics with emphasis on fibers, lasers, and detectors. Gapontsev passed away in October 2021, but his legacy lives on at WPI. The Gapontsev family has continued to support the university in critically important ways. Reflecting Valentin’s penchant for innovation and scientific discovery, the family recently established the Gapontsev Family Collaborative Venture Fund, with the goal of incentivizing, catalyzing, and inspiring interdisciplinary collaboration across the WPI enterprise with a special focus on photonics. The seed grants, awarded through a competitive process, will enable more successful research endeavors.

Six faculty were awarded Gapontsev seed grants last academic year to support three very different research projects that use photonics to push the boundaries of innovation, while also providing first-rate research opportunities for students. In the coming weeks, spotlights will be shared on the projects the Gapontsev Family Collaborative Venture Fund has made possible. 

Read the full Donor Impact Story in the upcoming Summer WPI Journal.

Using Light to Deliver Lifesaving Drug Treatments
“I have been working in drug delivery since my first research experience in 2004,” says Jeannine Coburn, associate professor of biomedical engineering. “I am always exploring new ways to deliver drugs using biomaterials.”

Coburn’s team at WPI’s Functional Biomaterials lab develops drug delivery systems for cancer treatment. The Gapontsev grant supports Coburn’s collaboration with Titova and the members of the Ultrafast Terahertz and Optical Spectroscopy lab “to open up the potential of using light to study our drug delivery systems and engineering novel strategies to improve cancer treatment.”

“We are using light-material interaction to uncover this fundamental knowledge,” Coburn says.

Importantly, she adds, the Gapontsev award has enabled several meaningful research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. These students have received training on specialized equipment, learned lab techniques, and identified their own research interests. One student, thanks in part to this experience, has been accepted to a PhD program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“We are grateful to the Gapontsev family for providing the funding for this project. It supports our collaboration, not only financially but with protected time, across multiple disciplines which is truly where innovation occurs,” Coburn says.