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Q&A: Biophotonics in Europe

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Better, faster, more cost-effective and less invasive – these are wish-list keywords for just about any life sciences researcher, clinician, medical technician or patient. They also are the buzzwords driving the biophotonics industry. Even as the European economy succumbed to the downturn of recent years, biophotonics as a market segment did better than some others. BioPhotonics magazine asked several European companies for a candid look at how the market is doing these days and where the technology is likely to take us in the future.

Inject Enterprise offers a quasi-continuous-wave diode laser stacked array for biophotonic applications.

Our respondents were Dr. Mark Browne, director of Andor Technology plc’s Systems Div. in Belfast, UK; Dr. Sergi Ferrando i Margalet, director of R&D at Monocrom SL in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain; Rafael Porcar Guezenec, CEO of Cosingo – Imagine Optic Spain SL in Barcelona; professor Karsten König, CEO of JenLab GmbH in Jena and Saarbrücken, Germany; and Sergey Sokolov, deputy director general of Inject Enterprise in Saratov, Russia.

All of the above companies are heavily involved in biophotonics. Andor’s products include Neo, a scientific CMOS camera, and Mosaic, an active illumination instrument using digital mirror devices for microscopy, optogenetics and other photostimulation applications. Monocrom offers lasers for eye surgery as well as products for skin cancer and prostate hypertrophy treatments, dental scanning and more.

Cosingo’s optical detection platform merges the latest of plasmonics, microfluidics and heat-shock proteins for early cancer diagnostics.

Among other devices, such as microscopes, JenLab makes clinical multiphoton tomographs based on femtosecond laser technology, including the Prism Award-winning MPTflex. Cosingo makes a new optical detection platform – merging the latest of plasmonics, microfluidics and heat-shock proteins for early cancer diagnostics – and also offers the MicAO, a system that enhances the performance of standard microscopes and extends adaptive optics benefits to nonexpert users.

Inject Enterprise produces pulsed quasi-continuous-wave laser diodes, and linear and stacked arrays with various wavelengths for laser illumination applications such as nanoparticle illumination in laser thermal therapy and laser fluorescence assay.

Q: How would you say the European market has been in the past few years for biophotonics?

Browne: Variable, but Andor has seen strong growth resulting from product innovation and resultant gains in market share.

Sokolov: The market for semiconductor lasers in the field of biophotonics [has been] actively developing in the past few years. The sales volume of semiconductor lasers applied in laser therapy increased greatly.

Ferrando i Margalet: The main market for lasers in the biomedical sector [previously] was related to beauty or aesthetics (hair removal, tattoo removal). It later expanded to other applications, such as skin cancer treatment, pain relief and surgery – in particular, eye surgery, where there is a demand for pulsed green lasers.

König: [The market is] growing – in particular, in cell biology and nanobiotech: nonlinear microscopy and GFP in cells/animals. ... [It also is] growing in medicine – in particular, femtosecond eye procedures and optical biopsies.

Q: Which application areas would you say are thriving – and why?

Browne: Live-cell imaging, because it is the environment in which to evaluate protein expression, localization and protein-protein interactions. [Also,] transgenics for photoactivation of channels.

Sokolov: Laser therapy is actively developing, thanks to medical methods developed by Russian medical researchers and their positive experience in such fields as stomatology therapy, laser magnetic ophthalmology therapy. Another area of growing laser therapy application in Russia is veterinary medicine; for instance, for treatment of cow mastitis.

König: Cosmetic eye surgery – in particular, in Asia. More Asians than Europeans/Americans have eye problems. [Also,] high-resolution-imaging non-linear optical biopsies.

Porcar Guezenec:
We are amazed to see that photonics is continuously breaking established barriers, such as the diffraction limit, to image more precisely.

Q: Where do you think the market is going for biophotonics?

König: [It will] replace conventional biopsies, replace mechanical flap instruments.

Porcar Guezenec: Biophotonics is getting mature, and for diagnosis, monitoring, therapy – and also in the case of nonmedical segments such as biometric devices – the field is now able to offer an alternative to previously established technologies. As biophotonics is more and more pervasive in our lives, it should allow us to maintain high growth rates for the years to come.

Browne: Superresolution will become important as users see new scientific opportunities. Spinning disk confocal will undergo some significant changes in the next few years as better white-light instruments emerge and competition escalates in laser-based technologies. Selective (or single) plane illumination microscopy (SPIM) is already emerging as an important technique for developmental biology.

Q: What do you see as the “next big thing” in biophotonics?

Browne: Optogenetics – Nature Methods’ Method of the Year 2010 ...

Sokolov: As “the next big thing” in biophotonics, we see wide research and convincing research results in such fields as nanophotonics – laser illumination of nanoparticles in laser thermal therapy and laser fluorescence assay.

Porcar Guezenec: This is truly a hard question. So many technologies have been announced as the next big thing too early. “Next big thing” is about scaling down light-based functionalities: tweeze, cut, move, heat, sensing the size of biological elementary particles to interact more efficiently. The next big thing will be very small. The next big thing shall work outside the research lab.

Ferrando i Margalet: The next big thing will be the explosion of biophotonics in an even broader range of applications, when cutting-edge research will turn into real-life use. There are many very interesting ideas and developments that are yet to come out to the general public.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to new advances in biophotonics?

Sokolov: In the application of nanomedical methods, the essential problems are the long certification period [and the] cost of clinical research.

Porcar Guezenec: If photonics itself is a very transversal tool, you can imagine how interdisciplinary biophotonics is. I think one of the biggest challenges is to manage to build talented interdisciplinary teams that reflect this diversity. Or how to build up a team unit able to picture out a global perspective of biophotonics challenges, [to] share a common technical language and background, although its members are coming from different fields, and [to] make them collaborate efficiently.

Ferrando i Margalet: The biggest challenge is proving to the world that biophotonics techniques can not only improve the existing ones, but also open new fields of application. While people accept the use of lasers in some areas, like hair removal, it is still not seen as a real tool in other fields, such as chronic pain relief, for example.

Jul 2011
One surface of a nonconducting plate that is coated with many minute particles of photoemissive material that are insulated from one another.
The study of how light interacts with nanoscale objects and the technology of applying photons to the manipulation or sensing of nanoscale structures.
Basic ScienceBiophotonicsbiopsiesBusinesscamerascancer diagnosticscell biologyCMOSEuropeeye surgeryimagingindustriallaser therapyMicroscopymosaicmultiphoton tomographynanobiotechnanoparticle illuminationnonlinear microscopypain reliefpulsed green lasersskin cancerSPIMsuperresolutionnanophotonics

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