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.
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