Biophotonics trailblazers drive mobile health

The ability of low-cost photonics to enable point-of-care systems is part of the mobile health market, which Lux Research (Boston, MA) says is forecast to grow 8X in the next decade—from $5.1 billion in 2013 to $41.8 billion in 2023. Lux notes that once clinical devices clear regulatory hurdles and gain acceptance of physicians, they will far surpass consumer-focused counterparts.

The report also quantifies a sharp rise in venture funding for mobile health devices, to $480 million in 2013, and says that large electronics and medical device companies are starting to make acquisitions in this arena.

As Dennis Matthews, director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology (University of California at Davis), stated at the 2014 Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, even a cell phone can be a powerful biophotonics device. One of the folks who has proven the truth of that statement again and again is UCLA Chancellor's Professor Aydogan Ozcan.  Ozcan, who is also associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute, develops inexpensive, lightweight attachments that turn ordinary smartphones into devices able to detect mercury in water, malaria in blood cells, and allergens in food.

This week, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI; Chevy Chase, MD) chose to honor Ozcan among 14 other researchers nationally by naming him a 2014 HHMI Professor. The award comes with a $1 million grant to pursue high-impact, interdisciplinary research in the coming 5 years, and to effectively integrate this work with creative approaches to undergraduate education. HHMI's goal is to transform science education in the U.S. by encouraging hands-on, research-oriented, and interdisciplinary instruction; Ozcan plans to use the grant to launch a program in which undergraduates form interdisciplinary teams annually to design, build, and test novel technologies for telemedicine and global health applications.

Such efforts will be the focus of Ozcan's talk at the Strategies in Biophotonics conference in September in Boston. The event will address the important trend of affordable, mobile devices for global health in other ways as well. For instance, Nanobiosym Chairman and CEO Anita Goel will follow Robert S. Langer’s opening keynote to discuss her goal to decentralize, mobilize, and personalize medicine through new game-changing technologies. In addition, Randal Chinnock of Optimum Technologies will discuss disposable optics, a key enabling component.

It is exciting to watch as these talented pioneers work to develop and hone technologies that will surely benefit us all.

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