BIO-OPTICS/BIOPHOTONICS: Technologies set to meet needs: Workshop highlights biophotonics opportunities

The EPIC Workshop on Biophotonics aimed to determine both opportunities and challenges for biophotonics business development for the next five years.


The EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium) Workshop on Biophotonics (October 25, 2012; Paris, France) aimed to determine both opportunities and challenges for biophotonics business development for the next five years. The event focused on sensors and systems for health diagnostics and monitoring (especially for personalized medicine), and for air, water, food safety, and quality control. Overall, participants identified a great need for label-free, fast, miniaturized, low-cost, and reliable systems that enable high performance in terms of both sensitivity and specificity, and noted that optics and photonics technologies are able to meet these requirements.

FIGURE 1. Key biophotonics markets.

Presentations featured roadmaps, markets, and end-user requirements by key speakers from Europe and beyond. One result was a clear definition of biophotonics and determination of key application markets (see Fig. 1). The mapping of markets in terms of size and growth highlighted emerging markets and segments (including OCT and handheld systems, which show particular growth potential; see Fig. 2).

FIGURE 2. Comparative market assessment for biophotonics.

The afternoon was dedicated to breakout sessions for four working groups (WGs). WG1 focused on understanding biologists' needs and challenges for technology developers. The group discussed difficulties imposed by the fact that biologists and physicists speak different "languages" and work from distinct knowledge bases, and worked to understand the incompatibility of experimental procedures including security protocols and a "too technical" approach to product development. Various alternatives were considered, mainly based on the needs and constraints of the users and on the requirements to create new formations.

WG2 highlighted the advantages of biophotonics in home care and personalized medicine, including miniaturized/integrated portable systems, multiplexing, high sensitivity and specificity, and real-time in-situ histological assessment. The group agreed that the main hurdles are not technological but related to cost (which must be very low), clinical validations (which are long and laborious), the necessary involvement of all health institutions, and acceptance by patients.

WG3 looked at bottlenecks related to safety and security for food, air, and water, including the lack of interest among microbiologists for new technologies; the time delay for acceptance and deployment of new methodologies in these markets, particularly in the food industry (about 15 years); the complexity of samples in applications (a technology that works on a synthetic sample does not necessarily work on industrial samples); and the difficulty of interpretation of results (mainly for Raman spectroscopy). The group also examined the technological status of label-free and labeled methods, and highlighted pros and cons of surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and Raman sensors.

Finally, WG4 investigated two key imaging modalities—optical coherence tomography (OCT) and photoacoustic (PA) imaging—and produced a summary of perceived advantages, limitations, challenges, and applications. For instance, advantages of OCT include real-time operation, resolution, and ability to combine with other modalities, while limitations include depth of penetration (100 μm to 2 mm) and bulk and cost of instrumentation. Challenges for OCT include cost and size reduction, use of integrated photonics (though market volume is necessary here), and incorporation of small, tunable lasers. As for applications, the group estimated that ophthalmology accounts for 95% of OCT products, though dermatology, cardiology, dentistry, and urology are among emerging markets.

For PA, real-time operation and contrast (for viewing blood vessels and melanoma metastasis, for instance) are two advantages, and limitations include instrument expense and lasers (power and pulse, depending on applications). Challenges related to PA that the group identified include the need for evaluation in a clinical environment, and development as an add-on to existing ultrasound systems. Applications include small animal imaging, but also mammography, lymph node biopsy, and other oncological uses.

The next step in the collaboration between EPIC and TEMATYS—the optics-focused consulting and market research company that worked with EPIC on the event—is to publish a report detailing results of the workshop and, further, to establish a roadmap for biophotonics in Europe. In fact, TEMATYS will offer roadmap recommendations and market perspectives during the Biomedical Optics Symposium (BiOS) at Photonics West 2013 (February 2–9, San Francisco, CA).—Carlos Lee, director general, EPIC;

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