BIOPHOTONICS/BIOMEDICAL OPTICS: Stanford's increasing focus on bio evident in symposium

Day 2 at the 2013 Stanford Photonics Research Center (SPRC) Symposium focused on biophotonics—a rapidly growing discipline for Stanford University that is "stealing" lab space and equipment away from more fundamental physics and optics programs. As one professor said, "Stanford is going where the money is" and today, the R&D money trail leads to biomedical optics.

Four presentations highlighted the miraculous things that stem cells could soon be enabling, such as growing any human body part susceptible to failure. Turns out that advanced optical imaging is necessary for the tremendous strides the science is making, on both the cellular and molecular levels. Exhibitor M Squared Lasers (Glasgow, Scotland) described the current era as the "molecular age," meaning lasers and imaging capabilities are facilitating understanding of atomic and molecular signaling pathways that allow cells to regenerate.

Stanford's Daniel Palanker discussed optical approaches to sight restoration including retinal prosthesis and optogenetics. Another presentation described how intricate studies of pluripotent stem cells—via optical methods such as bright red excitable fluorescent proteins—are improving prospects for genetic disease research and treatment. Other speakers explained how single-objective imaging allows 3D particle localization, how a single-molecule optical trap can elucidate the hybridization kinetics of DNA molecules, how dual-axis confocal microscopy is improving the determination of tumor margins for brain-tumor resection, and how surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) nanoparticles are improving colon cancer detection with 1.6 mm spatial resolution using a fiber-bundled endoscope.

Finally, Hong Liu of Google reported a sign that bodes well for the future of smartphones for biomedical applications: In September 2013, mobile search exceeded desktop search at Google for the first time.—Gail Overton

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