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If the volume of words written and spoken about the development of a medical tricorder-type device is any indication of its imminent arrival, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before we can order one on Amazon.

Such devices would save critical time in so many medical trauma situations – from accident and disaster scenes to the battlefield – it’s no wonder so much effort is being put into developing photonics-driven handheld diagnostic tools.

I wrote about the tricorder – a vision for the future of medicine from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series – in this space one year ago because it came up in a Q&A article by managing editor Laura Marshall in that January 2011 issue. In that article, Rob Morris of Ocean Optics Inc. said, “What once seemed fantastical is now firmly in the realm of possibility.”

We reported last May that a bounty of $10 million will be offered for the successful development of a mobile device, inspired by Star Trek’s fictional tricorder, that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board-certified physicians. The X Prize Foundation, in collaboration with Qualcomm Inc., seeks to achieve this technology by fostering advances in medical imaging, in microfluidics, and in expert systems and medical point-of-care data such as wireless sensors. You can read the article at:

The Tricorder X Prize aims to encourage consumer empowerment in health care by extending the reach of health information and services to more people. This prize is expected to bring understandable, easily accessible health information and metrics to consumers on their mobile devices, pointing them to earlier actions for care. It is certainly a worthy goal, and one shared by a growing number of people.

Last month, Laura and I were in Irvine, Calif., to speak to members of the Optical Society of Southern California on the campus of UC Irvine. We spent an enjoyable evening discussing the pace of acquisitions and consolidations in the photonics industry, and we thank Scott Rowe, OSSC president, and principal and chief consultant for Rowe Technical Design, and all the society’s members for their kind attention and the smart conversation that ensued.

Earlier that day, we had a tour of the nearby Beckman Laser Institute, led by its director, Dr. Bruce J. Tromberg, a professor of biomedical engineering and surgery. After a brief look into labs and clinical spaces, we talked at length with George M. Peavy, DVM, DABVP, director of comparative medicine programs. He discussed the multidisciplinary facility’s mission of moving medical devices quickly “from bench to bedside.”

At one point in our discussion, I mentioned that scientists everywhere seem to be invoking the tricorder name, and Peavy said they invoke it regularly there themselves.

Work in progress there includes diffuse optical spectroscopy for laser breast scanning. The technique they are studying allows clinicians to see when cancer cells are dying, based on differences in how living and dying cells use oxygen. The same science could one day be used for the predetection of hemorrhagic shock, diagnosis of traumatic brain injury and more.

You can learn more about Beckman Laser Institute from Laura’s coverage of our visit on the Dec. 22 segment of Light Matters at

The January 2012 issue of BioPhotonics represents a slight shift in our approach to covering the industry. We cover lasers, optics, imaging, microscopy and spectroscopy for the life sciences in every issue, and this has been our goal for some time; the shift is in the way we do that. This year, a number of stories in each issue will focus on an area of application for biophotonic technologies, such as cancer, medical devices, global health or – in this issue – dentistry.

For this issue, I tapped into resources from a previous job and wrote about photonics in root canal treatment. For the piece, I spoke with Scott C. Howell, a dentist and microbiologist from Laguna Niguel, Calif., who is working on his own vision of the tricorder. In this case, the goal is rapid, chair-side bacteria identification using laser Raman spectroscopy (LRS), an ability that could have applications well beyond the dental office. His ultimate vision is point-and-shoot LRS. “Almost like the tricorders on Star Trek – ultimately, that’s what this should translate to,” Howell said. Read the article, “Open Wide: Photonics Lights Up Endodontics,” beginning on page 42.

A team from BioPhotonics will attend BiOS at SPIE’s Photonics West this month in San Francisco. If you’re there, I hope you’ll stop by the booth and say hello.

Enjoy the issue, and let us know what’s on your mind.

Jan 2012
AmericasBeckman Laser InstituteBiophotonicsBruce TrombergdefenseEditorialGeorge PeavyKaren NewmanLaura Marshallmedical diagnostic devicemedical tricorderMicroscopyOcean OpticsOptical Society of Southern CaliforniaQualcommRob MorrisRowe Technical DesignScott C. HowellScott RoweSensors & DetectorsTricorderTricorder X PrizeX Prize Foundation

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