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Is the Fountain of Youth Made of Light?

Apr 2012

The World Health Organization’s World Health Day 2012 has come and gone (April 7), but its theme, “Good health adds life to years,” is one we all can appreciate. It also is a message that may well have special significance for the biophotonics community, promising opportunities for new research, treatments and medical devices aimed at making our lives better as we age.

Statistics about the world’s “senior” population abound. WHO says that in the next few years, for the first time, there will be more adults in the world over 60 than children younger than 5 years old. People in much of the world can easily imagine a future in which common childhood ailments of the past have been eradicated, along with many of the world’s communicable diseases – allowing the medical community to focus on treating noncommunicable diseases of old age, including cancer, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and age-related macular degeneration. And photonics is certain to play a major role in the various approaches to these conditions.

In this issue, we take a close look at photonics applications in ophthalmology, with a look at optical coherence tomography. Features editor Lynn Savage delivers an article called “OCT Moves from Clinic to OR to … Home?” beginning on page 18. OCT is most often associated with ophthalmology because it efficiently shows the details of various structures within the eye, including the retina, he writes.

“Clinical OCT has revolutionized the ability to diagnose surgical retinal conditions, including macular holes, epiretinal membranes and vitreomacular traction,” said Paul Hahn, MD, PhD, of Duke University Eye Center in that article.

With a life expectancy of around 70, the elephant on our cover, C’sar, is middle-aged at 38 years old. Blinded by cataracts and confined for his own protection at the North Carolina Zoo, C’sar required eye surgery. Veterinarian surgeons used a novel handheld spectral domain-OCT imaging system to visualize the layers of the cornea, the cataract and the lens capsule. C’sar’s story can be found on page 19 in a sidebar to our cover feature.

The ability to instantaneously measure live cells – and follow motions and processes over time – helps researchers study dynamic cell behavior. In “Dynamic Phase-Shifting Microscopy Tracks Living Cells,” by Dr. Katherine Creath, Goldie Goldstein and Mike Zecchino of 4D Technology Corp., we learn that this technique allows researchers to study cellular dynamics, motility, and cell and tissue morphology, all without harming the live cells. This allows real-time measurement of nerve cells and muscle fibers. Their article begins on page 22.

Contributing editor Marie Freebody, writing in “Maldi-MS Making a Strong Comeback,” reports that from cancer diagnosis and prognosis to the effects of applying medical leeches, the range of applications for Maldi (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization) imaging is growing. Researchers at the University of Montreal are working on introducing Maldi imaging mass spectrometry to the clinical setting as a complement to conventional histopathology for disease diagnosis and prognostic purposes. Researchers believe that imaging mass spectrometry is potentially powerful because it could combine molecular specificity with traditional histopathology for diagnosis. See the story beginning on page 25.

The use of nanoparticles is on the rise, in sunscreens and toothpaste and more. In “Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis Characterizes Biomaterials,” authors Bob Carr, Patrick Hole and Andrew Malloy of Nanosight Ltd. tell us that “biomaterial characterization at the nanoscale is gathering interest, as a better understanding of properties such as particle size or number may provide new ways to look at nanotoxicology or provide pathways to the development of early diagnostic test protocols.” Read the article beginning on page 28.

We’re looking forward to the biomedical conference topics on the program for CLEO:2012, coming up on May 6-11 in San Jose, Calif. When you take a break from the education sessions, visit the BioPhotonics staff at booth 2035 in the exhibit hall.

1. The photosensitive membrane on the inside of the human eye. 2. A scanning mechanism in optical character generation.
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