Biophotonics is a new and fast growing discipline in the health care and life sciences industry. Biophotonics studies the interaction between light and human tissue. Using multiband photonic and spectroscopic methods it is able to analyze cells and tissues by the way these living structures absorb, reflect and scatter light. This can be used to diagnose and treat diseases ranging from cancer to strokes and Alzheimer’s.
The benefits of photonics in health care are plentiful. The technology is non-invasive and has no adverse side effects, as it only deploys a light beam for diagnosis and treatment. Medical devices based on photonics technology are small and easy to handle, making the treatment highly portable. Last but not least, the cost of photonics treatment is low.
Researchers have identified several health care fields where biophotonics technology is especially promising:
* Preclinical research & diagnosis
Because of its high resolution and three dimensional imaging biophotonics allows a more holistic understanding of the process by which diseases originate and progress in the human body. This knowledge could help to detect and cure diseases even before macroscopic symptoms are revealed.
Early detection of cancer is crucial for effective treatment. For most cancers screening is ineffective, unpleasant (like colonoscopy) or simply impossible. Photonics is able to detect tumors with much more accuracy and speed and at lower costs. Photonics can also be applied in a surgical microscope or endoscope to precisely assess the degeneration of cancer tissue and offer treatments based on light to eliminate cancerous tissues.
* Breath analysis
Exhaled breath contains thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), that act as valuable biomarkers showing metabolic processes within a patient’s cells and tissues. Current breath biopsy analysis requires large and unwieldly equipment, that is expensive and intrusive for the patient. Photonics can make these systems much more compact so that VOC analysis could be done with a hand-held device, at much lower energy consumption and lower manufacturing costs.
* Infectious diseases
Photonics is able to rapidly identify pathogens after an infection. Clinicians are already working with a mobile phone-based fluorescence imager that detects bacteria in infected wounds. The imager guides the clinician to areas that require decontamination prior to bandaging.
* Neuro-monitoring and imaging
Because of its non-invasive nature photonics technology is very well suited to monitor the human brain, in particular in vivo imaging and neuro-monitoring. In this way stroke and brain injuries can be better diagnosed and treated. Photonics can also shed further light on neurovascular coupling in Alzheimer’s disease. Because of its lower cost photonics is well suited for scientific studies in healthy populations to help understand brain development and healthy ageing.
Medical scientists have devised a photonics based measurement system (COMET) that non-invasively measures oxygen in human skin cells.
Examples of Photonics in Health Care
Measuring oxygen inside active cells
To determine organ health physicians traditionally measure oxygen content in the blood. However, this says nothing about how oxygen is absorbed and used in the organ’s tissue cells. Through a new photonics based sensor technology, oxygen can now be directly measured inside tissue cells.
Doctors need detailed information about oxygen supply in tissue cells in order to make adequate decisions about blood transfusion and treatment of intensive care patients.
Using a skin sensor with embedded photonics technology the new measurement system (called COMET) non-invasively measures oxygen in human skin cells. And it does so in real time and only in the mitochondria of active cells. Skin is an early warning sensor to give physicians time to act before damage occurs.
BreathTek Urea Breath Test
The BreathTek UBT for H. pylori Kit (BreathTek UBT Kit) is intended for use in the qualitative detection of urease associated with H. pylori in the human stomach and is indicated as an aid in the initial diagnosis and post-treatment monitoring of H. pylori infection in adult patients and pediatric patients 3 to 17 years old.
The test may be used for monitoring treatment if used at least 4 weeks following completion of therapy. For these purposes, the system utilizes an Infrared Spectrophotometer for the measurement of the ratio of 13CO2 to 12CO2 in breath samples, in clinical laboratories or point-of-care settings. The Pediatric Urea Hydrolysis Rate Calculation Application (pUHR-CA), provided as a web-based calculation program, is required to obtain pediatric test results.
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