Medicine/ Healthcare

Biophotonics is largely involved in medicine/healthcare from diagnosis to healthcare through the prescription of drugs (see “Pharmaceutics”!) or the application of surgical and other types of treatments.

  • Photonics for diagnosis: Optics has enabled the development of rigid and flexible viewing endoscopes that allow minimally invasive diagnosis and treatment of numerous sites inside the body, such as the colon, the knee, the oesophagus and the uterus. Another method to investigate the “digestive system” is by letting patients swallow a tiny camera taking many pictures on its way from ingestion to exit. When analysing outer parts of the body, loupes and microscopes are also used. Optical sensors can be used to measure e.g. oxygen or sugar concentrations in the blood or other biomaterials. The market for a minimally invasive measurement of blood sugar to avoid finger sticking would be huge, since diabetes is developing epidemically. This has been the subject of an intense research but is still a challenge (even Google recently its participation in that battle with their smart contact lenses and the use of optics)..
  • Photonics for surgical treatment: Many different types of lasers are commonly used for surgery. A proper choice of laser wavelength and pulse duration is necessary to target specific tissue sites. The Er:YAG laser is e.g. unique in its ability to cut bone with very reduced thermal damage. Lasers can also be used for treatment of skin cancers by using light-activated drugs (photodynamic therapy). The eye is probably the part of our body where lasers have been most widely used for cutting, drilling holes, reshaping cornea surfaces etc. One can also mention that lasers can be used to solder living tissues by providing the exactly required amount of heat at exactly the right place for gluing cells together. Laser systems used in medicine have been traditionally very large. Visible diode lasers, diode-pumped solid-state lasers, light-emitting diodes, and compact optical parametric oscillators are now frequently used to build new and more compact systems. Lasers together with optical fibres can be brought inside the body for surgery. One specific example is the destruction of kidney stones by lasers (laser lithotripsy).