Photonics Shines in Medicine
Hank Hogan, Contributing Editor
Photonics plays a key role in medicine and health care. Lasers, with their precise targeting of tissues and locations, have found a home in many areas of surgery. Digital images and their transmission and display are critical in diagnostic procedures.
These are not niche applications, either. An estimated 1 million laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) procedures were performed in the US last year, with twice that number predicted for 2001. The growth rate may be even higher outside the US because regulatory approval -- and hence availability -- comes more quickly elsewhere for high-repetition-rate, flying-spot lasers.
"It's anticipated that this will become the most commonly performed surgical procedure of any in medicine within the next couple of years," said Stephen Updegraff, medical director of Updegraff LASIK Vision of Tampa Bay, Fla. "Every year we've gone up by 50 percent. It's an explosive growth."
Besides LASIK, lasers are used for cosmetic surgery and the growing field of photodynamic therapy. Other high-growth areas rely on additional branches of photonics. For example, more and more medical centers are switching from film to digital imaging, creating more need for improved imaging and display techniques. And telemedicine is a growing field that will require the increased bandwidth of fiber optics.