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House R&D Caucus hears about light-based innovation in SPIE-sponsored briefing

08 December 2009

Naomi Halas (Rice Univ.) speaks to the House R&D Caucus; SPIE sponsored the presentations.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Healthcare breakthroughs are happening where light-based scientific disciplines intersect, experts told the House R&D Caucus on 1 December.

Policy-makers in Washington, D.C., were advised how government can help accelerate healthcare innovation by R&D leaders -- all SPIE Members -- from biophotonics, nanomedicine, and bioimaging at a luncheon briefing sponsored by SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics.

David Benaron, CEO of Spectros and a member of the faculty of Stanford Univ., said that current marketplace R&D opportunities for bioimaging, biosensing, and nanophotonics have played a part in creating a "nano-optics revolution." Optical technologies offer the potential to mitigate damage from storms, disease, and compromised food supplies caused by climate change; to dramatically cut energy consumption by using solid-state lighting; and to more accurately diagnose disease and guide surgery, he said.

Recent patent law changes around the world have created new challenges for technology developers, Benaron said. "It's difficult for small companies to enforce their patents, and large companies just go to licensing."

Benaron audio presentation (mp3) | Benaron slides (PDF)

Dennis Matthews, director of the National Science Foundation Center for BioPhotonics Science and Technology at the Univ. of California, Davis, said that more emphasis is needed on funding interdisciplinary research. Matthews cited important medical and communications projects developed through multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional efforts, and said that funding agencies need to change focus to align with the direction of technology R&D.

Mathews told the caucus about the success of his group's work in inspiring high school and community college students to study math, science, and engineering. Through increasing familiarity with those fields and showing how their applications can improve healthcare and other areas of life, "we've created scientists," he said.

Matthews audio presentation (mp3) | Matthews slides (PDF)

Naomi Halas (pictured at upper right), director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics and professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics, and astronomy at Rice University, told the caucus about a cancer therapy developed by her team utilizing nanomedicine and light. Her invention of nanoshells enables a non-toxic treatment of human head and neck cancers, which is beginning to be applied to prostate cancers as well. Her work is "pharma-free" -- there is no drug used -- and employs physical properties of inert materials to kill tumors. Halas is a Fellow of SPIE.

Concurring with Benaron that changes are needed in the regulatory process, Halas said that it is up to scientists to educate policy-makers and the public about nanotechnology. "All nanoparticles and nanomaterials are not the same," she said. "There may be nanoparticles that might cause concern but some are cause for extraordinary hope."

Halas audio presentation (mp3) | Halas slides (PDF)

Q&A session from House R&D Caucus audio (mp3)

Speakers at the SPIE-sponsored House R&D Caucus presentation - Eugene Arthurs, Naomi Halas, David Benaron, Dennis Matthews.

Left to right, presenters at the House R&D Caucus: Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE (moderator); Naomi Halas, Director, Laboratory for Nanophotonics at Rice University and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics & Astronomy; David Benaron, CEO of Spectros, physician, and serial entrepreneur; Dennis Matthews, Director of the NSF Center for Biophotonics Science & Technology and Professor at the Univ of California/Davis.

SPIE, the international society for optics and ohotonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org

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