A large initiative was established by the Dutch government to fund 8 tenure track assistant professors across the 4 technical universities. At TU Delft, David Maresca and Sebastian Weingartner were carefully selected amongst the best. Both candidates are being honored as Rising Stars of TU Delft for their brilliant beginnings, for both have received the prestigious START-UP Grant awarded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), which funds top researchers, steers the course of Dutch science by means of research programs and by managing the national knowledge infrastructure. We are featuring David Maresca first, in a two-part introduction to the newly appointed assistant professors.  

The way to establishing his own lab
Maresca started studying physics in Paris (France) and was particularly drawn to physics at the interface with other disciplines. When he had to choose a research project for a bachelor’s course, he decided on a study that focuses on the brain. "That was the first time I discovered physics applied to medicine and it was really exciting; I even got the chance to assist a neurosurgeon”, says Maresca.  As a young scientist, Maresca moved to the Netherlands and worked as an intern at Philips High Tech campus. He pursued his career as a PhD candidate at Erasmus MC in the biomedical engineering department. He continued with a postdoctoral fellowship at the Langevin institute in Paris, followed by a second postdoctoral experience at Caltech. He is now establishing his own laboratory that will focus on biomolecular ultrasound imaging in the ImPhys department of TU Delft.  

That was the first time I discovered physics applied to medicine and it was really exciting

Inspired by jellyfish
His work is inspired by modern developments in optical microscopy, a field that was revolutionized by the discovery of the green fluorescent protein (GFP). These fluorescent proteins, derived from jellyfish, glow in the dark. Today, biologists worldwide use these fluorescent proteins as molecular tags and reveal the inner structure of cells using fluorescence microscopy. Unfortunately, optical microscopy is limited to transparent organisms or superficial tissue layers because of the scattering of light. To “spy” deeper into living organisms, ultrasound can be a useful tool. 

To “spy” deeper into living organisms, ultrasound can be a useful tool.

Ultrasound to track cellular processes
Ultrasound are sound waves used daily in clinical practice to form echographic images. A typical example are the sonograms (images) of fetuses obtained during a prenatal visit. Ultrasound technology is particularly appealing because of its noninvasive nature, real-time imaging rates, overall capacity to detect the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, and its high sensitivity to blood flow. In his laboratory, David Maresca wants to develop ultrasound imaging approaches that lean on recently introduced proteins capable of scattering ultrasound waves, and ultimately use these acoustic tags to track cellular processes with ultrasound.

Start-up grant
The start-up grant provided by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) will help Maresca to setup his new laboratory and aims at developing molecular ultrasound imaging of vascular inflammation. “You can think of it in the context of stroke or myocardial ischemia. When a patient reports chest pain complaints, it is difficult to identify the nature and the extent of the event that caused these symptoms. I want to develop ultrasound sensors of vascular inflammation that will reveal the severity of recently resolved ischemic events in the heart or the brain, and help identify patients presenting a high risk for future events” explains Maresca. 

Essential collaborations
Maresca envisions two main research tracks for his laboratory; the first will be medically oriented, and the second geared towards basic neuroscience. To achieve this goal, a close collaboration with Erasmus MC will be essential and Maresca has received a joint appointment in the Neuroscience department led by Professor Chris de Zeeuw. He is also anticipating to collaborate closely with the Bionanoscience department of TU Delft on the bioengineering aspects of his work.

I want to develop ultrasound sensors of vascular inflammation that will reveal the severity of recently resolved ischemic event

At the moment, Maresca is looking for PhD candidates and a lab technician to lead the bioengineering effort in his lab and design ultrasound sensors for biomedical applications. Just back from sunny California, Maresca enjoys the charming and lively streets of Delft. Years after his PhD studies in Rotterdam, he is now embracing a new imaging challenge in the birthplace of microbiology!