Quantum Technologies for the Life Sciences

The Theory Division, led by Martin Plenio, is pursuing a broad range of theoretical research spanning the theory of quantum information, application oriented theory aimed at the realisation of quantum technologies for quantum simulation and quantum sensing as well as work that supports the translation and application of these technologies to the life sciences. Furthermore, we explore the role of quantum dynamics for structure, dynamics and function of biological systems.

We are developing methods to control quantum sensors based on colour centres in diamond that achieve the conflicting goals of reducing the impact of noise and other imperfections while enhancing the sensitivity to signals of interest. The goals include schemes that can achieve NMR detection at the nanoscale using colour centers in bulk diamond as well as sensing schemes using surface functionalised nanodiamonds that are attached to receptors proteins in cell membranes whose structure and dynamics are of interest in medicine. We are also interested in developing schemes that are capable of detecting the dynamics of individual charges in biological systems.

We are developing room-temperature methods for nuclear hyperpolarization to advance in the field of MRI. By transferring the optically induced polarisation of electron spins to nuclear spins in metabolic molecules or to surface-functionalised nanoscale diamonds they may be used as contrast agents for MRI that increase the signal by orders of magnitude. Hyperpolarised MRI may enable metabolic MRI of cancer, infarcted heart tissue and other organs at a fraction of the costs and with higher versatility than traditional methods. These applications will be pursued with our partners in medicine.

Beyond the application of quantum technologies for imaging we are also interested in the role of quantum dynamics in biological function. A core theme here is the coupled dynamics of electronic and vibrational degrees of freedom in the protein. Potential areas of applications are excitation energy transfer and charge separation in natural and artificial photosynthesis, electron transport in protein structures which may support function and models for the magnetic sense of animals. Apart from the development of theoretical models and numerical methods we also explore the application of quantum technologies as sensors to verify/falsify the proposed models.