Research Group Dr. Oliver Bruns

Short Bio

Dr. Oliver Bruns is currently a Team Leader at the Hemholtz Pioneer Campus in Munich/Germany. Until end of 2017 he was a Research Scientist in the Department of Chemistry at MIT in Cambridge, MA, USA. His research is dedicated to the development of excellent techniques for biomedical imaging. The emphasis is on applying novel nanomaterials and technologies for next generation imaging. He received his Diploma in Biochemistry and Molecular Cell Biology from University of Hamburg, Germany in 2005 with honors. During his PhD at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf with Prof. Ulrike Beisiegel and Prof. Horst Weller he pioneered a novel technique to label lipoproteins with nanocrystals and used this technique to investigate lipoprotein metabolism in the context of atherosclerosis and diabetes research. After his PhD he joined the Heinrich-Pette-Institute where he used these new nanostructures to sense the metabolic activity of brown adipose tissue in a multimodal imaging approach (high-speed confocal imaging, MRI, TEM and SEM). In his postdoctoral studies at MIT Dr. Bruns established short-wave infrared (SWIR) imaging as new technology for next generation whole body and intravital imaging applications. His interest as a bioengineer is to combine novel nanomaterials with state-of-the-art microscopy and whole body imaging techniques to answer basic research questions and engineer novel solution for real world medical problems. Dr. Bruns’ contributions have been recognized by national and international awards, fellowships and honors. His work has been funded by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes and the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

Next generation in vivo optical imaging with novel short-wave infrared emitting probes


Today, biomedical imaging techniques like MRI, CT and PET are corner stones for the treatment and management of patients suffering from heart disease, stroke, cancer or autoimmune disease. Developing new targeted contrast agents and novel imaging modalities will pave the way for personalized therapy and high precision treatments in the near future. Imaging in the short-wave infrared region (SWIR) is a new technology for biomedical applications.

SWIR provides several advantages over the visible and near-infrared regions: general lack of autofluorescence, low light absorption by blood and tissue, and reduced scattering. In this wavelength range tissues become translucent. Recent progress in detection technology and the development of probes demonstrated that, in principal, SWIR imaging enables applications which were previously not feasible with any other technique. These advantages will enable new capabilities in preclinical imaging.

While the optical advantages are clear, the successful translation of SWIR imaging into routine applications requires novel, bright and targeted probes as well as advanced imaging setups. Particularly, for clinical translation these probes also have to be safe and non-toxic and the setups convenient and practical for medical staff

Most SWIR imaging setups so far are used for proof of principal demonstrations only. To utilize the full potential, the first goal is developing novel SWIR imaging setups, which enable high-speed intravital imaging, ultra-sensitive whole animal imaging and fluorescence molecular tomography in mice in the SWIR. The second goal of this project is to develop novel bright and targeted SWIR probes for preclinical research in diabetes and oncology.

The novel applications include SWIR imaging of physiology and metabolic activity and targeted SWIR imaging of tumors. SWIR intravital microscopy will allow imaging the brain vasculature in mice through intact skin and skull and generating detailed blood flow-maps in mice.

In the future, advantages of SWIR imaging will also improve fluorescence guided surgery and other clinical applications in precision medicine. To advance clinical research and enable clinicians to utilize and benefit from the great potential of SWIR imaging, the overarching goal of this project is to develop novel non-toxic SWIR probes for future clinical use. The unprecedented sensitivity of SWIR imaging in combination with its deep penetration and high resolution should allow detecting cancer cells in lymph nodes with single cells sensitivity, which is an ultimate goal for a surgeon.

Selected Publications

Technology development

Bruns OT*, Bischof TS*, Harris DK, Franke D, Shi Y, Riedemann L, Bartelt A, Jaworski FB, Carr JA, Rowlands CJ, Wilson MWB, Chen O, Wei H, Hwang GW, Montana DM, Coropceanu I, Achorn OB, Kloepper J, Heeren J, So PTC, Fukumura D, Jensen KF, Jain RK, Bawendi MG, Next-generation in vivo optical imaging with short-wave infrared quantum dots,
Nature Biomedical Engineering 1, Article number: 0056 (2017)

Clinical application

Carr JA, Valdez TA, Bruns OT, Bawendi MG, Using the shortwave infrared to image middle ear pathologies.
PNAS, 2016 Sep 6;113(36):9989-94.

Biomedical application

Bartelt A, Widenmaier SW, Schlein C, Johann K, Goncalves RL, Eguchi K, Fischer AW, Parlakgül G, Snyder N, Nguyen TB, Bruns OT, Franke D, Bawendi MG, Lynes MD, Leiria LO, Tseng YH, Inouye K, Arruda AP and Hotamisligil GS. Brown adipose tissue thermogenic adaptation requires Nrf1-mediated proteasomal activity.
Nature Medicine, 2018 Epub Feb 5 

Technology development

Bruns OT*, Ittrich H, Peldschus K, Kaul MG, Tromsdorf UI, Lauterwasser J, Nikolic MS, Mollwitz B, Merkel M, Bigall NC, Sapra S, Reimer R, Hohenberg H, Weller H, Eychmüller A, Adam G, Beisiegel U, Heeren J, Real-time magnetic resonance imaging and quantification of lipoprotein metabolism in vivo using nanocrystals,
Nature Nanotechnology, 2009 Mar;4(3):193-201.

Biomedical application

Bartelt A, Bruns OT, Reimer R, Hohenberg H, Ittrich H, Peldschus K, Kaul MG, Tromsdorf UI, Weller H, Waurisch C, Eychmüller A, Gordts PLSM, Rinninger F, Bruegelmann K, Freund B, Nielsen P, Merkel M and Heeren J, Brown adipose tissue activity controls triglyceride clearance.
Nature Medicine, 2011 Feb;17(2):200-5.

Image courtesy of Dr. Oliver Bruns

Join the Team

I am looking for new team members to join our interdisciplinary group. Biologist, Chemists, Engineers and Physicists, as well as MDs are welcome to apply. Fully funded positions on all levels (postdocs, PhD students and master students) are available.


Dr. Oliver Bruns
Team Leader

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