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Career Steps Profile: SPIE Fellow Israel Gannot

Biomedical Innovator Has "Running" Idea List

photo of Israel Gannot

The most important steps Israel Gannot has taken in his career have been literal ones: He runs when he's not in his biomedical engineering lab at Tel Aviv University or giving a lecture at George Washington University (Washington, DC). Everything from 10K races to triathlons to the 2007 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN. And he gets work done in the process.

"It gives you time to think," says Gannot, a biomedical optics researcher with a lifelong interest in collaboration and problem solving. "You run and you get into the zone. I have so many things I can do when I'm running."

In fact, he founded OptiDet Diagnostics, an optical diagnostics company, while on a training run with a graduate student one Saturday in the spring of 2007. His student, Moshe Ben-David, rode his bike while Gannot stepped through his running routine on foot.

"While we did that, we established a company," Gannot says. OptiDet develops non-invasive medical diagnostic methods that can provide test results almost instantly. It's still in its infancy, but its creation illustrates how entrepreneurial innovation and medical breakthroughs can spring from mixing disciplines and activities.

Gannot was named an SPIE Fellow in 2008 for his significant contributions to the field of biomedical optics. His research has focused on hollow optical fiber waveguides for use in laser surgery, radiation-tissue interaction in biomedical optical systems, and optical fiber sensors for biomedical analysis. He was one of the first developers of optical waveguides for laser transmission in the mid-infrared range, and he developed a trans-endoscopic feedback controlled system based on thermal imaging via such a waveguide.

Gannot is currently developing new sensing methods using these waveguides for bacteria and chemical detection.

His collaborations include development of thermal imaging bundles for medical applications and fluorescence-based imaging methods for detection of tumors seated deep under tissue surface.

"I like very much cross collaboration in our fields. We can't do anything by ourselves," he says. "The work is too complex to have only one person working on it."

Most Difficult Career Step: Deciding whether to stay in the Israeli Army as head of R&D in Biomedical Instrumentation or return to academia for advanced degrees and a future university job with a salary that would only be about a third of his Army pay. Gannot says he decided to go for an advanced degree even though he was bored with electrical engineering, his undergraduate major. "Then I took a course in medical electronics," he says, and he saw the "beautiful connection" between his engineering background and his interest in health care. "I like to find the connections between things that don't seem to be connected," he says.

Next Career Steps: "One that excites me is the smart medical home." Gannot believes the architecture and design of medical facilities should be totally different than it is now. Testing labs and treatment centers in hospitals are built around the needs of the physician rather than the patients, he says. People have to leave their homes to get routine and specialty tests. Gannot's "Lasers & Optics in Medicine" Laboratory at Tel Aviv University is developing ways to conduct diagnostic sensing, imaging, and even treatment in the home and have test results and other reports - rather than the patient - sent to a lab. He and his collaborators - architects, clinicians, software developers, communications specialists, psychologists, optical engineers, and ethicists - are building a demonstration lab to show how "everything can be sensed at home." For example, a bathroom mirror can detect a change in the color of someone's face and send that data to a health professional. Sensors in the walls or floors of a home can detect the severity of a fall in the living room and post the information automatically online for someone to analyze offsite. "There's no device. The data is collected invisibly," he explains. Gannot uses a 180-pound "doll" in his smart medical home experiments, but he expects to bring in human subjects soon to spend a night or more in the demonstration lab.

Career Steps and Profiles Series Home Page

Profile Posted: June 2008

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200806.94

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