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Illuminating the issues

BioPhotonics
Jan 2010
Tom Laurin

Health care experts gave US legislators a healthy dose of information on biophotonics last month when SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, held a luncheon briefing in Washington for members of the US House of Representatives’ R&D Caucus.

Research and development leaders from SPIE described for the legislators ways in which innovation can be supported and sped up through government action, focusing on biophotonics, bioimaging and nanomedicine and on what light-based technologies can do to spur breakthroughs in health care.

The need for funding for interdisciplinary research was emphasized by Dennis Matthews, director of the National Science Foundation Center for BioPhotonics Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. Important developments in both medicine and communications have been born of collaborative research between multiple institutions from each field, he said, adding that funding agencies must recognize the trend toward multidisciplinary efforts and must support them.

R&D opportunities in the bioimaging, biosensing and nanophotonics marketplace have helped to create a “nano-optics revolution,” according to Dr. David Benaron, the CEO of Spectros, who also is on the faculty of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Benaron pointed out that optical technologies can be used for more accurate disease diagnosis and surgical guidance, and he cited recent patent law changes around the world that have sparked new challenges for technology developers, especially for smaller companies that have a difficult time enforcing their patents.

Naomi Halas, a SPIE fellow, director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics and a professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston, talked about her research team’s work combining light with nanomedicine to invent nanoshells that treat head and neck cancers without the use of any drugs. She called for scientists to inform lawmakers as well as the public about the potential and possible pitfalls of nanotechnology so that useful policies can be created. “There may be nanoparticles that might cause concern, but some are cause for extraordinary hope,” she said.

Connecting with government officials is a vital responsibility of scientists and engineers. To ensure that the world’s leaders have sufficient information on which to base votes and rulings on all kinds of issues, members of the photonics industry must make it a priority to continue reaching out to them and offering education and encouragement, as SPIE did at last month’s event.


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