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Latest Issue
Nov/Dec 2020

OCT branches out

DOUGLAS FARMER, SENIOR EDITORAnyone who has recently had an eye examination may have been ushered into a room that contained an optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanner. This technology uses backscattered light to construct cross-section images of the retina, similar to the way sound waves are used to construct an ultrasound image, except at a much higher resolution. Imaging the thickness of the retina can help to reveal various diseases and conditions.

Most people who dutifully put their head on the chin rest of the OCT scanner and stare at the red light are unaware of how the technology works. They also may not know that OCT has developed beyond the functionality of the traditional ophthalmology machine they see before their eyes, which was established in the 1990s. The technology has since ventured into realms once dominated by ultrasound and other techniques, to explore not only macular degeneration but also cancer or hindrances to fetal development — and it’s performing these tasks with incredible resolution.

Indeed, OCT has come a long way since David Huang and his colleagues published their research on the technique nearly 30 years ago. In its first decade, the technology was considered a breakthrough in studies of the structure of the eye and ocular diseases. With the arrival of the new century, and the evolution of the technology into such areas as OCT angiography and spectral domain OCT, the stage was set for its use in such fields as cardiology, dermatology, and oncology.

OCT proved itself invaluable when paired with other optical approaches. It has enhanced traditional endoscopy, and, this year, the technology was successfully paired with autofluorescence imaging in lung biopsies.

OCT has even helped inform veterinary medicine, as I detail in this issue’s cover story, due to its ability to resolve tissue of both large and small animals at the micron scale; identify eye conditions in cats, dogs, or stray turtles; delineate cancer tumors for extraction from canines; and determine the joint strength of horses.

Other authors in this issue take a deep dive into topics such as using OCT to track health and possible complications in fetal development following a pregnant mother’s use of alcohol and other drugs; and combining the vast number of images generated by the technology with machine learning, allowing for quick scanning and accurate diagnosis.

While such techniques have enabled OCT to branch out considerably from its initial uses, it has continued to enhance ophthalmology over the years. In ‘Biopinion,’ a group of authors urges the photonics community to develop new light sources to make VIS-OCT — which is used to examine the vascular network in the eyes — more accessible to researchers in labs and practitioners in clinics, who would most benefit from its high-resolution capabilities.

Coming early in 2021, readers will be able to experience virtual lessons in OCT by participating in several sessions of the Biomedical Imaging track of the Photonics Spectra Conference, sponsored by our sister magazine. Learn more about the conference here, and register for free at

Enjoy the issue!
Mike Wheeler
As editor-in-chief, Michael Wheeler oversees Photonics Media's editorial operations — spanning print, web, and podcasts. He also serves as editor of Vision Spectra, chronicling advancements in the rapidly expanding machine vision/inspection sector.
Dan McCarthy
Senior editor Dan McCarthy manages editorial content and production for Photonics Spectra. An award-winning writer and editor, he has communicated the progress and practical value of advanced technologies for over two decades.
Doug Farmer
Senior Editor Douglas Farmer has been a journalist for nearly 20 years, winning awards for health and education reporting. He has a master's degree in journalism from Ball State University. He is editor of EuroPhotonics and BioPhotonics magazines.
Sarah Weiler
As Webinar & Social Media Coordinator, Sarah Weiler organizes and produces all Photonics Media webinars and manages social media content. With a background in writing and editing, she also contributes to the print publications.
Valerie Coffey
Science writer Valerie C. Coffey holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in astronomy. She has covered optics, photonics, physics, and astronomy for a variety of industry and academic publications since 2000.
Hank Hogan
Contributing Editor Hank Hogan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked in the semiconductor industry and now writes about science and technology.
Marie Freebody
Contributing Editor Marie Freebody is a freelance science and technology journalist with a master’s degree in physics and a concentration in nuclear astrophysics from the University of Surrey in England.
Farooq Ahmed
Farooq Ahmed has covered the physical and biological sciences for over a decade. He has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Brown University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University.
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