LASER World of PHOTONICS - Photonics sheds light on molecular interrelationships

At the world's leading trade fair, LASER World of PHOTONICS - taking place in Munich, 26-29 June 2017 - exhibitors, application panels and symposia will demonstrate just how closely medical progress is intertwined with photonics techniques.

When today's researchers embark on voyages of discovery, they eagerly enlist photons to transport themselves into miniature worlds. Photonics is ubiquitous when peering into living cells, neural brain processes or pathologically altered tissue.

Practice-oriented application panels - in hall B2 and at the European Conference on Biomedical Optics (ECBO 2017) being held in parallel with the trade fair - will address topical photonics trends in medical science and research. One of the topics included is deep tissue imaging. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) enables medical professionals to look a few millimeters below the tissue surface in real time using infrared laser. The optical systems provide 3D scans with microscopic resolution without exposing patients to harmful radiation.

Laser control of brain functions

LASER World of PHOTONICS 2017 will also shed light on a promising, young field of research: optogenetics. This uses laser to illuminate neural processes. To achieve this, researchers introduce special light-switchable proteins into areas of the brain. The proteins enable them to use laser light selectively to control the ion flow within the neural network. Research in this area is proceeding at breakneck speed. Brain functions and cognitive processes are proving increasingly amenable to being controlled to permit their systematic investigation.

Even the activities of individual neurons can be observed. Femtosecond lasers are being employed because they enable light manipulation even in deep brain areas. At the same time, they deliver 3D live transmissions from the functioning brain by means of multiple photon stimulation.

Optical techniques for diagnosis

Microscope and imaging-technique resolution is advancing in tandem with progress in computer-processor, software and light-source performance. Thanks to these innovations, the medical field is increasingly knowledgeable with regard to the origins of diseases and how to combat them.

In the development of new drugs as well, optical techniques provide more timely evidence of their efficacy. Optical techniques also enable quicker diagnoses, which helps medical professionals gain vital time in the fight against multiresistant germs. In the medium term, photonic diagnostics will pave the way for personalised medicine, with therapies individually tailored to the patient.

Minimally invasive techniques

Nowadays, optical techniques play a key role in the development and fabrication of miniaturised biochips, as well as perfectly customised, 3D-scanned and 3D-printed implants. Accurate imaging and diagnostic techniques, and miniaturised endoscopes provide doctors with minimally invasive insights into the patient's body. Developments are proceeding apace, for example, in the field of multiphoton tomography, which yields 3D insights into skin and eye tissue by means of femtosecond lasers. To this end, exhibitor LASER JenLab is pushing ahead with a research project to refine a technique for diagnosing skin cancer or dangerous deterioration of the cornea in mere seconds.

If, in the course of the optical diagnosis, doctors determine that surgery is required, it can also be performed using optical techniques. Examples include OP assistance systems, augmented or virtual reality, and lasers in lieu of manually guided scalpels. Ophthalmologists in particular use lasers to measure and operate on eyes. The concentrated light beam is used in corneal transplants and provides micron-level precision.

Attendees can find out more about the latest applications from the biophotonics and medical technology arenas at LASER World of PHOTONICS 2017.

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Primary neural cells in culture. Deconvolved z-stack projection with GPU-based deconvolution. Antibody staining of class III beta tubulin (Cy2), nestin (Cy3) and DCX (Cy5) DAPI-stained nuclei. Sample provided by H Braun, LSM Bioanalytik, Magdeburg, Germany.
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