SPIE biomedical optics leaders delighted with NIH initiative to speed delivery of new treatments to patients

17 January 2012

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Leaders of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are among those in the biomedical optics community expressing delighted optimism at the launch of a new initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at accelerating delivery to patients of revolutionary medical treatments.

The new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was established by NIH last month after U.S. Congressional approval of a funding bill and its signing by President Barack Obama. The bill allocates a budget of $575 million for NCATS to use in streamlining the process of translating scientific discoveries into new drugs, diagnostics, and devices.

"A tiny fraction of the vast number of exciting lab discoveries and inventions has been translated into clinical practice for diagnosis or therapy," said Lihong Wang, Gene K. Beare Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Imaging at Washington University in St. Louis. "NCATS will focus on addressing time-consuming and costly bottlenecks in existing translational pipelines."

Wang, who serves as Editor of the Journal of Biomedical Optics, published by SPIE, said that his field has much to share. "Biomedical optics plays an important role by providing sensitive, multiscale, inexpensive imaging and sensing tools for translational research," he said.

"The creation of NCATS represents important recognition by Congress and the NIH that the investments of new resources and energy in translational science are necessary to accelerate the movement of promising concepts from basic science into the clinic," said Bruce Tromberg, director of the Laser Microbeam and Medical Program at the Beckman Laser Institute, University of California Irvine, and a member of the SPIE Board of Directors. "This is coming at a time when many people are understandably frustrated with the apparent growing gap between fundamental discoveries and medical interventions that could improve our health and quality of life."

Tromberg noted that while much has been said about the new center's anticipated impact on drug discovery and development, there is tremendous opportunity for NCATS to nurture the growth, dissemination, translation, and commercialization of new enabling medical technologies.

"Our community understands that biophotonics technologies and devices dedicated to individualized patient care are relatively easy to translate to the clinic and can yield enormous benefits," Tromberg said. "NCATS is in a unique position to bring these technologies together through their national network of clinical translational science centers (CTSC), and through partnerships with other institutes focused on biomedical technologies, such as NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering). If NCATS can promote this activity, it would relatively quickly help place a host of powerful new technologies at the bedsides of patients and into the hands of physicians."

Many of these new advances will be unveiled before the international community at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco beginning this Saturday. Nearly half of the conference's 4,200 technical papers are on biomedical optics research. Its two exhibitions, beginning with the weekend BiOS Expo, will include more than 1,200 exhibiting companies and numerous new products.

SPIE has deep involvement in furthering biomedical optics and related technologies, pointed out SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

"For many years SPIE has organized the leading conferences in optics and photonics in medicine at Photonics West and on the NIH campus. Our Journal of Biomedical Optics was the earliest journal dedicated to the then-growing but now exploding field of optics in medicine," Arthurs said. "We have been delighted to help facilitate the exchange of ideas that has contributed to the extraordinary advances in the potential for diagnostic and therapeutic applications of photons in medicine."

"Optical applications in medicine date back to the first visual diagnostics, in the days of Hippocrates, continuing on through the invention of the microscope. However, in recent decades adoption of technology has lagged behind the rate or new discoveries," Arthurs said. "The advances in amazing new types of imaging, photonics-enabled genomics, and light-based treatments that have been supported by NIH funding are truly impressive. We are delighted to see NIH adopt a proactive role with this new center and we commit our support to speedier translation."

An example of the type of innovative projects that will be led by NCATS is the new initiative between NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  to develop cutting-edge chip technology.  This new technology will allow researchers to screen for safe and effective drugs far more swiftly and efficiently than current methods, saving both time and money.

To meet the goals of NCATS, NIH is reorganizing a wide range of preclinical and clinical translational science capabilities within NIH into an integrated scientific enterprise under the leadership of Acting Director Thomas Insel, and Acting Deputy Director Kathy Hudson. Insel is the director of the National Institutes of Mental Health and Hudson is the deputy director for science, outreach, and policy at the NIH.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 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. SPIE provided over $2.5 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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