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New biophotonics techniques hold promise but need translation, say researchers at NIH-SPIE ‘Bench to Bedside’ workshop

06 October 2009

BETHESDA, Maryland, USA, and BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Leading-edge advances such as a revolutionary cardiology treatment and noninvasive optical techniques for studying the brain combined with pragmatic discussions on research focus and funding highlighted a two-day inter-institute workshop last week at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Approximately 350 preeminent researchers in biophotonics attended the workshop, titled "Optical Diagnostics and Biophotonic Methods from Bench to Bedside." Amir Gandjbakhche, NIH, and Bruce Tromberg, Beckman Laser Institute and Univ. of California, Irvine, chaired the meeting, held 1-2 October. SPIE provided logistical support for the event.

Attendees including Christopher Contag, Stanford Univ. School of Medicine, and Joseph Izatt, Duke Univ., characterized the event as an extremely informative and valuable opportunity for candid discussion among the key players about the newest developments in the field.

The workshop's 30 oral presentations covered the latest optical techniques for diagnosis of diseases of the eye, brain, breast, and vascular system, and developments in endoscopy, molecular probes, and applications to stem-cell research.

Tromberg's opening remarks outlined the barriers to translation of optical technologies from the research bench to clinical use. He noted that of more than 50,000 clinical trials surveyed, "only a few percent involved lasers or optical technologies." He said that this low percentage is "a result of our community's focus primarily on technology development and early feasibility studies. Our next great challenge is to expand our impact and pursue phase 1-3 studies that standardize and validate new technologies and demonstrate clinical efficacy."

Guillermo Tearney, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Joseph Schmitt, LightLab Imaging, told about the revolutionizing impact of the recent introduction of Fourier transform optical coherence tomography (FT OCT) on the field of intracoronary imaging in interventional cardiology. The key advancement of this technique is in the speed of image acquisition, allowing examination of the interior of arteries without the use of a balloon to halt blood flow during imaging.

Tearney and Schmitt said the technology is moving rapidly to clinical use in Europe and Japan. Although it is not yet approved in the U.S., they predict it will become the FDA standard evaluation tool for all future stent procedures.

Christoph Hitzenberger, Center for Biomedical Engineering and Physics, Medical Univ. of Vienna, reported on diagnosis of diseases of the eye utilizing the latest high-resolution OCT, with isotropic resolution of 5 micron^3 (5x5x5 microns).

Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, Vanderbilt Univ., described infrared neural stimulation based on pulsed infrared light, for providing a noninvasive replacement method for electrical stimulation in diagnostic and therapeutic applications for brain and neural research.

Strong panel discussions addressed cost effectiveness and performance efficacy of new technologies compared to current practice, and sparked more discussion of barriers to new-technology translation, e.g., the limited time medical professionals have for new developments relative to their daily clinical activities, and the lack of effective image-interpretation tools to connect the new images with clinicians' experience-based procedures.

NIH funding directors Houston Baker, Yantian Zhang, and Debra Babcock told attendees that 90% of NIH funding goes to investigator-initiated grants and only 10% to agency announcements. They urged institutes to connect with NIH staff about possible opportunities.

Tayyaba Hasan, Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was presented with the NIH Bench-to-Bedside Pioneer Award for her extraordinary contributions to the field of biomedical optics including her work in photodynamic therapy (PDT), clinical translation of technology, and extensive mentoring of young scientists.

Best Student Poster prizes chosen from among the nearly 100 entries from young researchers went to Rabah Al Abdi, SUNY Downstate Medical Center (first); Abhishek Rege, Johns Hopkins Univ. (second); and Sarah Erickson, Florida International Univ. (third).

SPIE is the International Society for Optics and Photonics, 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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