Optics and photonics + X = wow

A major trend in the field of microscopy is taking center stage. It is the generation of hyphenated systems that combine light microscopy with probe microscopy, microscopy with spectroscopy or microscopy with interferometry."

That statement, from a company called Hyphenated Systems LLC, describes the power of combining technologies–which often produces synergistic results. Hyphenated Systems itself addresses non-bio markets, but the effect is the same regardless of application: Exciting.

At BiOS, the Biomedical Optics Symposium that is part of the annual Photonics West conference, the organizers at SPIE have noticed increasing interest in an area that combines optical and nonoptical technologies: the Photons Plus Ultrasound conference. This issue reports a milestone development along those lines: the industry's first commercially available photoacoustic tomography (PAT) instrument (see "3-D photoacoustic tomography system," the announcement of Endra Inc.'s Nexus 128, page 34). Optics and photonics offer many benefits, including cost effectiveness and high optical contrast–but an inherent limitation is imaging depth. Pairing ultrasound (which offers depth) with optics/photonics overcomes this gating factor (see http://bit.ly/bFJ8P0). The result is information-rich structural and functional imaging of tissue–even without contrast agents (though Endra points out that PAT is also well-suited for use with existing and specialized photoacoustic contrast agents).

The entry of photoacoustics (a.k.a. optoacoustics) to the commercial market is cause for celebration, and while the road from preclinical to clinical is long, we will no doubt be seeing clinical PAT instruments in the future.

Another development in cooperation among diverse technologies, also reported in this issue, was highlighted recently when the National Academy of Sciences awarded a coveted Cozzarelli Prize to a paper describing the combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with laser-based atomic force microscopy (AFM) to enable nano-resolution MRI (see "Nanoscale MRI depends on AFM, fluorescence," page 9). The paper's author is heading another technology-combination approach to nanoscale MRI that uses fluorescence.

Examples of such cooperation are increasing–adding new capability and insight to propel discovery in the life sciences.

Click to EnlargeBarbara Goode
Editor in Chief

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