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Lighting the way to better health care

BioPhotonics
Feb 2009
Diane Laurin

Judging by the portfolio of businesses, products and technologies witnessed during the BiOS portion of SPIE’s Photonics West last month, biophotonics is clearly the technology of choice for more effective health care in the 21st century. Certainly, biophotonics in medicine has shown both promise and actual progress.

That has to be a big relief for aging baby boomers and the medical community, both of which would benefit from earlier detection and treatment of illnesses, diseases and cancers. Almost coincidentally, as the peanut butter/salmonella scare hit the media, Iowa State University researchers announced a technique for testing for the presence of the bacterial infection that could give investigators faster, more precise answers. The process begins by testing food – in most cases produce – with a strip of adhesive tape.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego Medical Center have developed a telemedicine program called STRokE DOC, which employs a digital observation camera so that local doctors and out-of-range specialists can use the Internet to determine the best course of treatment for stroke patients.

An ophthalmic imaging system produced by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, could detect diabetes before symptoms otherwise become apparent and even before detection by the standard procedure – the glucose tolerance test – is possible.

Further along the product-to-market stream, Siemens Healthcare of Malvern, Pa., signed an agreement that will enable it to market a mammography digitizing system from Carestream Healthcare Inc. of Rochester, N.Y. The instrument, designed for US health care providers, converts film-based diagnostic and screening mammograms into digital imaging formats.

Opnext of Japan has introduced its HL7001/7002 MG, a laser diode designed for use in medical applications such as blood analysis and endoscopy. The 705-nm instrument permits smaller biomedical measuring devices and yet offers high output power, reliability and the low operating current required by medical applications.

And from Scotland, Intense Ltd. has announced its Power Pack 630, a fiber-coupled laser module that is aimed at medical and display applications such as photodynamic therapy and medical imaging.

These and the many other technologies and systems stemming from intensive investigation are the reasons biophotonics is attracting so much attention from the medical and health care communities. The discipline is, after all, about light, a tool that in most cases is more powerful than electronics, although its most endearing contribution may be the increased quality of patient care and the reduction of health care costs that strike so close to home.


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