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  • Top Biophotonics Stories of 2015

BioPhotonics
Jan 2016
As the global biophotonics market hit its stride in 2015, stories about smartphone microscopes, diagnostic applications and light therapy were among the most popular for the year.

JAMES SCHLETT, EDITOR, james.schlett@photonics.com

A pair of studies released last November indicate that the global biophotonics market hit its stride in 2015 and will significantly grow in size over the next five years. One of those studies, by Future Market Insights, predicted the global biophotonics market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 percent between 2014 and 2020, sending the market’s value from $31.4 billion to $59.7 billion during that period. RnR Market Research similarly projected an 11.5 percent compound annual growth rate between 2015 and 2020 that would bring the market’s value to $50.2 billion by 2020.

Future Market Insights’ projected absolute dollar opportunity growth (in billions) for the global biophotonics market through 2020.

Future Market Insights’ projected absolute dollar opportunity growth (in billions) for the global biophotonics market through 2020. Courtesy FMI.

Factors identified by RnR that are expected to fuel this robust growth include the emergence of nanotechnology, demand for point-of-care (POC) devices, an increasing population and growing prevalence of lifestyle diseases, which include heart disease and diabetes. Future Market Insights likewise attributed this projected growth to the increasing aging population, as well as more governmental support in technology innovations and needed health care improvements.

Many of these trends were already taking hold and making headlines in 2015. For example, illustrative of the demand for POC devices, the biophotonics-related news article with the most views on photonics.com focused on a mobile phone microscope that can analyze blood for the presence of parasitic worms. The fifth most viewed article focused on the attempts to commercialize an optical glucose sensor that promises to save people with diabetes from finger-prick blood tests. Other popular articles in 2015 highlighted how biophotonics is transforming the health care field, not only though through advances in diagnostic imaging but also by providing therapeutic solutions. Two articles in the top 10 focused on imaging for cancer detection and two others showed how biophotonics are being used to kill cancer cells and treat veterans suffering from Gulf War illness.

According to Future Market Insights, “Biophotonics is booming in the North American region, and is set to follow the same trends in EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] and APAC [Asia-Pacific] regions.” As of 2014, North America accounted for 39.8 percent of the biophotonics market, followed by EMEA at 26.8 percent and APAC at 18 percent. North America’s market share dominance is reflected in the top 10, with four stories concerning the work of U.S. scientists, and one joint U.S./Australia research project. Three articles addressed advances by European scientists and two reported research by those in Asia.

Here is a breakdown of the 10 biophotonics-related news articles with the most views on photonics.com in 2015:

1. New Smartphone Device Analyzes Blood, Aims to Eradicate Diseases in Africa (posted Jan. 6, 2015)

Who: Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley.

What they did: The engineers developed an automated method for detecting and quantifying the presence of infections caused by parasitic worms through the use of a mobile phone microscope.

How they did it: The engineers combined microscopic imaging technology found on a smartphone and a base fitted with LEDs, microcontrollers, gears, circuitry and a USB port. A smartphone app supported an automated process for counting the number of parasitic worms in a blood sample. The app used an algorithm to determine number of worms captured on the phone’s video by focusing on their “wiggle” motions.

The experimental setup used for testing the antibacterial effect of blue LEDs.
The experimental setup used for testing the antibacterial effect of blue LEDs. Courtesy of the National University of Singapore.

Why this story matters: This automated process takes two minutes or less, making it far more efficient than traditional analysis that relies on molecular markers or fluorescent stains, methods that are more time-consuming and prone to human error.

2. Drug Fluoresces, Kills Cancer Under One Wavelength (posted Jan. 6, 2015)

Who: Researchers at Oregon State University.

What they did: The researchers developed an imaging and phototherapy technique that prevented the recurrence of ovarian cancer in laboratory mice for 25 days after they were treated.

A new imaging and phototherapy technique uses nanoparticle dendrimers to carry a drug that sets the stage for improved cancer surgery and phototherapy.
A new imaging and phototherapy technique uses nanoparticle dendrimers to carry a drug that sets the stage for improved cancer surgery and phototherapy. Courtesy of Oregon State University.

How they did it: The technique highlights cancerous tissue, making its removal easier for surgeons, by using nanoparticles that contain a compound that fluoresces with exposure to near-infrared light. This illumination also generates cancer-killing oxygen.

Why this story matters: This technique is simpler and uses fewer compounds than alternative theranostic approaches.

3. Blue LEDs Could Help Preserve Certain Refrigerated Foods (posted July 15, 2015)

Who: Scientists from the National University of Singapore.

What they did: The scientists found the optimal conditions under which blue LEDs exhibit strong antibacterial effects on major foodborne pathogens.

How they did it: Major foodborne pathogens were exposed to blue LEDs emitting at 461 and 521 nm. The highest rate of bacterial inactivation was found when the temperature ranged between 4 and 15 °C and at an acidity level around pH 4.5.

Why this story matters: The use of blue LEDs, when employed at certain temperatures and acidity levels, could reduce the need for chemical preservatives in certain food products, possibly fresh-cut fruits and ready-to-eat meats.

4. Graphene Confines Light for Nanomolecular Sensing (posted July 10, 2015)

Who: Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland and the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Spain.

What they did: The researchers developed a graphene plasmonic sensor that analyzes nanoparticles that are too small for mid-infrared wavelengths.

How they did it: Electron beams and oxygen ions are used to pattern nanostructures on a graphene surface. Light causes the graphene nanostructures to oscillate. The light then is concentrated in tiny spots, which can be compared with target molecules, making the nanostructures identifiable.

Why this story matters: The graphene plasmonic sensors can be used for analyzing proteins and other biomolecules as well as detecting gas and explosives and studying polymers.

5. Optical Glucose Sensor on the Road to Commercialization (posted July 17, 2015)

Who: Glucosense Diagnostics, a University of Leeds spinoff company.

What they did: The company developed — and put in clinical trials — an optical glucose sensor that can determine glucose levels in blood within 30 seconds without having to draw the blood of someone with diabetes through a finger-prick test.

How they did it: The sensor is equipped with a nanoengineered silica chip with an active layer of ions. A low-power, near infrared diode laser illuminates the ions and causes them to fluoresce, and the light-absorbing properties of glucose in the bloodstream causes fluorescence decay changes when the glass touches skin.

Why this story matters: People with diabetes would prefer a noninvasive method for self-regulating their condition.

6. Nanolaser Detects Biomolecules (posted Jan. 13, 2015)

Who: Researchers from Yokohama National University in Japan.

What they did: The researchers developed a photonic crystal nanolaser biosensor that analyzes changes in a solution’s surface charge density or pH to identify DNA and biomarker proteins.

How they did it: The nanolaser was used on liquids with varying acidity levels and liquids containing charged polymers. The nanolaser’s emission efficiency changed as it was exposed to different surface charges in the solution. By focusing on the emission wavelength and intensity variations, the biosensor could then detect refractive index and electric charges near the solution’s surface.

Why this story matters: The photonic crystal nanolaser biosensor could provide a more cost-effective alternative to fluorescent tagging or spectroscopy techniques.

7. Microlens Array Spawns Massive Microscope Image (posted July 21, 2015)

Who: U.S. and Australia researchers.

What they did: The researchers developed a multispectral device that created a 17-gigapixel microscope image with 13 color channels gathered by thousands of microlenses — the largest such image ever created.

How they did it: Using lasers to illuminate tiny segments of a sample and image the resulting fluorescence signals, each microlens provides data that is used to create an image 1200 × 200 pixels wide. These small images are then pieced together.

Why this story matters: By quickly processing large amounts of biomedical data, the multispectral device breaks the “bottleneck” that researchers traditionally confront when using multispectral microscopes with single lens designs that can only survey one point at a time and with few color channels. Rather than having to repeat this process many times to create a larger microscope image, this new multispectral device produces 1-megapixel images at a rate of 200 frames per second.

Participants in this VA LED treatment study wear an LED helmet, intranasal diodes and LED cluster heads placed on the ears.
Participants in this VA LED treatment study wear an LED helmet, intranasal diodes and LED cluster heads placed on the ears. Goggles are worn to block out the red light. Courtesy of the Naeser Lab/Boston University School of Medicine.

8. VA Researching LED Treatments to Battle Gulf War Illness (posted April 13, 2015)

Who: Researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

What they did: A light therapy process, which involves using LEDS to apply red and near-infrared light to the scalp and diodes to deliver light to the brain via the nostrils, was found to have promising effects on veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.

How they did it: The LED therapy increases blood flow to the brain and spurs the mitochondria to produce more Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which transports chemical energy.

Why this story matters: Gulf War Illness involves medically inexplicable chronic symptoms, such as fatigue, joint pain and insomnia. While serving during the Gulf War, veterans may have suffered brain damage caused by explosions or exposure to pesticides or neurotoxins. These factors may have impaired the mitochondria, and the LED therapy aims at alleviating this damage.

9. Raman Imager Speeds Cancer Detection(posted April 24, 2015)

Who: Purdue University’s Jonathan Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation.

What they did: Engineers developed vibrational spectroscopic imaging technology that is 1,000 times faster than a state-of-the-art commercial Raman microscope. The electronic device, a 32-channel tuned amplifier array, or TAMP array, could have advanced early cancer detection capabilities in that it provides for the observation of changing metabolic processes inside cells, imaging of large areas of tissue and the scanning of entire organs.

The emission spectrum of the laser and corresponding molecular fingerprint regions.
The emission spectrum of the laser and corresponding molecular fingerprint regions. Courtesy of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO).

How they did it: Employing a new method of simulated Raman scattering, the technology performs microsecond speed vibrational spectroscopic imaging. A laser measures molecules’ vibrational spectrum, allowing the device to identify and track them without having to mark samples with dyes.

Why this story matters: The current process for producing images of organs for the diagnosis of tumors can take several minutes and is too slow to provide a clear picture of what is happening in the cells. The high-speed spectroscopic imaging provides that clearer picture by producing complete scans in seconds.

10. Broadband Laser Aimed at Cancer Detection (posted Sept. 25, 2015)

Who: Researchers from Germany and Spain.

What they did: The researchers developed a laser system with a broad and powerful phase-coherent emission that can detect subtle signs of developing cancers, namely the molecules from cancer cells that end up in air expelled from the lungs.

How they did it: The laser system generates MIR pulses via difference-frequency generation driven by the nonlinearly compressed pulses of a Kerr-lens mode-locked Yb:YAG thin-disc oscillator.

Why this story matters: The laser system does what would be too time-consuming or costly to do using other more compact MIR sources, such as quantum cascade lasers.


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