Hot Topics at BiOS

Cancer-fighting technologies took center stage at BiOS.

01 April 2016

Nearly 1000 people packed the BiOS Hot Topics session at SPIE Photonics West this year to hear seven talks on biomedical optics technologies used in diagnosing and treating cancer, heart disease, eye disease, and other medical conditions.

In addition to giving the biomedical optics community “snapshots” from a number of subareas, the session was a platform for paying tribute to the late Lee Rosen, a scientific review officer at the US National Institutes of Health, and honoring SPIE Fellow David Boas, who received the 2016 SPIE Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award.

SPIE member Sergio Fantini of Tufts University (USA) facilitated the Hot Topics session. Chairs for BiOS were SPIE Fellows Jim Fujimoto of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) and R. Rox Anderson of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Harvard University.

Summaries from the session are below.


SPIE member Melissa Skala of Vanderbilt University (USA) described her work using quantitative microscopy and tumor organoids to streamline drug development and treatment planning for pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of cancer. By the time of diagnosis, there is often very little time for the typical trial-and-error approach to determine the best treatment.

In Skala’s lab, biological tumor samples from the patient are used to create 3D “tumors-in-a-dish,” or organoids, which are optically accessible. Optical metabolic imaging (OMI) is performed to assess the efficacy of each drug given to the organoids, thereby rapidly determining the optimum treatment regimen.


SPIE Fellow David Sampson of University of Western Australia described efforts to overcome the two limitations known all too well by researchers in the field of biomedical optics: constrained depth penetration through tissue and insufficient contrast to discern structures. His approach focuses on building and using “microscopes-in-a-needle” so surgeons can locate very small tumor elements, avoiding the need for further surgery.

These ultra-small, high-sensitivity microscopes are manipulated inside tissue to get 3D reconstruction images via optical coherence tomography (OCT).

“We’ve been applying these probes to basic physiology problems, but we want to find human applications as well, particularly in breast cancer,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated that we can distinguish between tumor and adipose tissue, but you can’t tell just by looking at the scattering signature the difference between benign and cancer cells.”

Sampson’s work enhances contrast by looking at birefringence and stiffness using optical coherence micro-elastography. OCT imaging can be used to guide the researcher or clinician to suspicious solid tissue, and the additional contrast from these metrics can be added to the OCT image to identify possible cancer.


Heather Franklin, president and CEO of Blaze BioScience (USA), is developing fluorescent markers that may lead to improved intra-operative visualization of brain tumors.

Franklin described how “bringing light to cancer” by “painting” tumors improves cancer surgery results by providing real-time, high-resolution visualization of cancer cells throughout the surgical procedure. The company’s first Tumor Paint product, BLZ-100, has applications in imaging brain- and skin-cancer lesions that are as small as 0.5 mm.


Aaron Aguirre, assistant professor at MGH, discussed how microscopy techniques can be used to assess a beating heart at subcellular resolution in small animal models. The goal is to better understand what happens to heart cells following a myocardial infarction and thus prevent subsequent heart failure in these patients.

Aguirre has focused on perfecting gating algorithms that synchronize a laser-scanning microscope with the heartbeat of the animal. Images are reconstructed based on knowledge of the cardiac cycle phase, allowing subcellular-resolution videos of beating hearts to be captured free of motion artifacts.


SPIE member Eric Potma of University of California, Irvine (USA) demonstrated how stimulated nonlinear-coherent-microscopy techniques can aid in improving the contrast in nonlinear microscopy imaging of biological tissues and structures.

He showed several illustrations of how stimulated emission pumping would impact the contrast and spatial resolution of current state-of-the-art nonlinear microscopy systems like Raman scattering microscopy, coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy, and sum frequency generation (SFG) microscopy.


Photoacoustic imaging pioneer Paul Beard of University College London gave interesting insights on how laser-generated acoustic waves aid in large-field-of-view, ultrahigh-speed, high-resolution visualization of the internal structure and function of soft tissues.


Jennifer Hunter of University of Rochester and the Advanced Retinal Imaging Alliance (USA) discussed how adaptive optics are enabling in vivo imaging of retinal structures to see “invisible” cells, measure retinal function, and understand what cells in the retina are really doing.

Read more news and highlights from SPIE Photonics West 2016

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