Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cell Bio 2012 event brims with biophotonics innovations

Seemingly well-timed in the midst of the 2012 holiday season, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB)'s annual meeting, held December 15-19, 2012, in San Francisco, CA, this year, had a lot to give to its some-7,000 attendees through its exhibition, symposia, and poster presentations. While not solely a bio-optics and biophotonics event, the innovations for these markets present on the exhibit floor, etc., didn't disappoint.

A handful of companies had chosen ASCB as their venue to unveil some of their latest innovations in this space. Here are a couple of note:

At Bio-Rad Laboratories' (Hercules, CA) booth, the company showed its S3 Cell Sorter, "the first truly walk-up automated cell sorter available," they claim, as scientists need minimal training to operate it. Equipped with one or two lasers and up to four fluorescence detectors, the benchtop system has fully enclosed fluidics and temperature control in a 2.3 x 2.1 x 2.1 ft footprint. What's more, the system is ready to sort samples in less than 30 minutes for high-throughput applications such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and fluorescent cell imaging.

Scientific instrumentation maker FEI (Hillsboro, OR) launched a light/electron microscopy combo that enables scientists to see structural and functional relationships at various resolutions in their samples with unprecedented detail, says the company. The iCorr fluorescence microscope module, which is available either as an integrated component on the company's Tecnai transmission electron microscopes or as as a retrofitted module on already installed Tecnai platforms, delivers correlative results in minutes rather than hours or days, thanks to a white-light LED source and image acquisition at 10 fps.

For BioOptics World's full report on the event, please stay tuned for the January/February 2013 issue. Until then, have a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

FiO poised for lots of bio

Next week's Frontiers in Optics 2012, the Optical Society's annual meeting held in Rochester, NY and known as FiO, has a schedule packed with biophotonics and bio-optics research to be presented.

On Monday morning, October 17, Plenary Session speaker David R. Williams of the University of Rochester will describe use of adaptive optics for imaging single cells in the living retina, enabling microscopic views with unprecedented detail. Other biomedical applications employing adaptive optics are on the schedule as well.

FiO will feature quite a bit on point-of-care applications, too: Stephen Boppart of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) will speak about optical coherence tomography (OCT) solutions for primary care physicians, and Holger Schmidt of the University of California-Santa Cruz will cover using optofluidics for molecular diagnostics.

Microscopy and OCT research will round out the bio offering. Elizabeth Hillman of Columbia University and Chris Xu of Cornell will each explore imaging of the living brain; Jeff Squier of the Colorado School of Mines will discuss multiphoton microscopy; and Gabriel Popescu of UIUC and Jerome Mertz of Boston University will talk about novel phase microscopy methods. In OCT, Zhongping Chen of the University of California-Irvine will cover intravascular applications, while David Huang of the Casey Eye Institute will discuss application to corneal imaging.

Please be sure to watch for tweets from the show floor while BioOptics World is there -- if you don't follow us already, just go to

Monday, October 1, 2012

Take 10 minutes now

What if just 10 minutes could make a big difference? This is Science Advocacy Week (October 1-5, 2012), when your 10 minutes, added to my 10 minutes, added to 10 minutes from scientists across the nation adds up to a spotlight on bio-optics in particular, and science in general.

Not everyone understands how important basic research is--a fact that is unfortunate at best and, in the case of elected officials, potentially devastating. This week presents a great opportunity to heighten the profile of your work and its impact. 

Next week the news media will report the 2012 Nobel Prizes in science, and when President Obama’s correspondence office staff sorts through incoming messages to pass along to the president, they look for examples that are timely, compelling, and representative of topics in the news (according to Mike Kelleher, former director of that office). So the timing's perfect; let’s do what we can to see that science topics dominate the in boxes of our elected officials this week.  

A nice page on the website makes it super easy to send the same message to all of your federal lawmakers at once. Very cool!  

When composing your message, keep in mind that just last month, lawmakers heard highlights from the NRC’s new Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation report, which discussed the importance of these technologies in life sciences among many other areas.    

Also keep in mind these tips, drawn from
o  Be polite.
o  Keep it short and accessible to laymen, and write to the interests of those who will read it.
o  Be personable, be yourself.
o  Don’t be shy, don’t use all caps.
o  Contact only your own lawmakers (using this link ensures you will), and make it clear at the top of your message that you are a constituent

I always like to give to charity when there’s an opportunity for matching donations, and I think this week’s advocacy campaign amounts to about the same thing in the interests of science. Let’s add our voices to those of the American Society for Cell Biology and the and the Genetics Society of America. Please join me in going to bat for bio-optics.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Optics report makes 2 key recommendations for life sci

What do you think of the two key recommendations for the health and medicine sector made by the Harnessing Light Committee of the U.S. National Academies of Science's National Research Council?  Released on August 13, 2012 the report (called Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation) aims to help American policy makers and leaders advance the national economy and provide "visionary guidance and support" for future development of optics and photonics--which have fundamentally changed the life sciences among many other areas.

The report devotes one of its ten chapters (chapter 6) to the discussion of biomedicine, although discussion of life sciences appears in other sections. You can download the entire publication or individual chapters here; look for the blue and gray "download free pdf" link.

Here are the recommendations in a nutshell:
1. The U.S. optics and photonics industry should create instruments to allow simultaneous measurement of all immune-system cell types in a blood sample.
2. The industry should focus on ways to increase the rate at which new pharmaceuticals can be safely developed and proved effective.

Next week, on September 12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and former Intel CEO/Chairman Craig Barrett will headline an invitation-only briefing for lawmakers, and a reception with federal agency staff, to discuss the report. Thomas Baer of Stanford University, a powerful advocate for biomedical optics and one of the Harnessing Light Committee members, will participate. Meantime, we at BioOptics World would like to know, what do you think of the recommendations?

Friday, August 10, 2012

OCT systems and application workshop plans growth

Last week I got to spend a little time with attendees at the first annual workshop of the Center for Biomedical OCT Research and Translation (CBORT) in Boston, and by all accounts the event was top shelf. With a focus on optical coherence tomography (OCT) and a mission to pioneer and provide access to microscopic imaging instruments for biologic and clinical research, CBORT was established in 2009 at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School, and in 2011 became a National Biomedical Resource Center; the group’s work is highlighted in an article in the July/August 2012 issue of BioOptics World (see OCT for oncology: Preclinical progress highlights clinical potential).

The two-day inaugural workshop, titled OCT: Technical Foundations and Systematic Implementation, brought together a select group of 18 engineers and researchers--from academia and industry around the country and the world--for intense theoretical and practical training of OCT principles and functionality taught by leaders in OCT, including CBORT principal investigator Brett Bouma, Professor of Dermatology and Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard Medical School and Associate Physicist in the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at MGH. The instructors covered light source development, signal processing and system calibration, system integration, imaging probes, and image processing and interpretation.

"Ultimately, it is our mission through these educational programs to further the OCT field and facilitate the widespread acceptance of this technology in research and clinical medicine," said CBORT administrative director Jacqueline Namati, Ph.D. Nemati notes that the workshop will likely expand in the future from a two-day event to "a week-long program with sessions catered to clinicians, engineers, physicists, and biologists."

This is exciting because CBORT--which receives funding from the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering--aims to help advance OCT technology to identify new methods for diagnosis and insights into disease, and formulate new therapeutic strategies or drug targets. A major goal of the center is to cultivate strategic research collaborations and application-specific OCT instrumentation and hardware. All of this activity promises to boost OCT technology even further along the path Eric Swanson describes in his two-part article titled One decade and $500M: The impact of federal funding on OCT. For more information on the center, see CBORT’s website:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Deadline 9/30/12: NIH tech transfer pilot for startups

In an article we're preparing for the July/August 2012 issue of BioOptics World, Susan Reiss discusses the National Institutes of Health's Office of Technology Transfer (OTT), and how it can help companies commercialize technologies developed by NIH and others. Reiss points to laser capture microdissection (LCM) as an example of biophotonics technology successfully transferred from the NIH to industry. Developed on NIH's Bethesda, Maryland campus in the mid-1990s, the photonics-powered LCM technology has ranked on NIH's top 20 commercial products list for six of the last eight years.

As part of her article, Reiss describes a pilot program that ends September 30, 2012, and offers specialized license agreements for life sciences startups interested in introducing intramural NIH and Food and Drug Administrative (FDA) inventions to the market. You qualify for the program if your company is less than five years old, has 50 or fewer employees, and owns capital resources of $5 million or less.

A goal of these agreements is to reduce the time and upfront costs required to execute an exclusive license: Because patent filings can cost up to $50,000, the start-up agreements "make it easier for a company to get in the game if they find a technology they want to try to commercialize," according to OTT Deputy Director Steven M. Ferguson.

Interested? Find details on the new short-term exclusive Start-Up Evaluation License Agreement (Start-up EELA) and a Start-up Exclusive Commercial License Agreement (Start-up ECLA) at

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Optical imaging tech transfer programs encourage collaboration

Transitioning technology from lab to market can be tricky. During a rump session organized by the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA) at the Optical Society's (OSA) 2012 Biomedical Optics and 3D Imaging Congress, Robert Nordstrom of the National Institutes of Health said that better teamwork between academics and industry personnel can make a critical difference. He pointed to two funding programs offered by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)--the PAR-10-169 Academic-Industrial Partnerships for Translation of in vivo Imaging Systems for Cancer Investigations and the Network for Translational Research: Optical Imaging in Multimodal Platforms--that both require funding recipients to demonstrate academic/industrial collaboration.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Determining whether a patient will respond to chemo

I’m finding the plenary talks here at OSA’s Biomedical Optics and 3D Imaging conference particularly inspiring. For instance, this morning, Bruce Tromberg’s (University of California Irvine) talk on diffuse optical spectroscopy (DOS) as applied to breast cancer provided hope that cancer patients can be assessed before administration of chemotherapy to determine whether their tumors are likely to respond positively to the treatment (it turns out, you can predict this). Anybody who has watched a loved one suffer though this devastating treatment for naught will certainly appreciate this point.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The world's fastest-focusing lens?

"The fastest focusing lens in the world" can change focal length in sub-microseconds--and can also do beam modulation, which makes it versatile for applications including spectroscopy and imaging. TAG Optics is a startup launched just a few months ago to commercialize this lens; founder and CEO Christian Theriault helped me understand the technology's application to a two-photon microscopy application: In non-synchronous mode, the lens generates a z-stack nearly instantaneously. "Instead of changing the focus stage, we would turn the lens on and get the z-stack right away, so it takes away the need to do post-image recreation." Theriault says the company is in the process of building a new driving kit "that will give us much more power, that would technically allow us at 10x do a 1 cm focus range. So you'd have a fixed stage, your sample, and electronically focus completely."

The technology, which works by sending sound waves into a liquid, was developed in 2006 by a Princeton professor associated with MIRTHE (Mid Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment), the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. MIRTHE dedicated its most recent Investment Focus Group Workshop to medical applications.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

At Pittcon 2012: Are exosomes biomarkers? Laser-based bionanoparticle tracking helps to answer

In a meeting with NanoSight (Salisbury, UK) CEO Jeremy Warren, I learned that research in exosomes has increased dramatically over the past five years. Not yet well understood, exosomes are 30-100 nm particles that cells “purposefully and systematically shed into the bloodstream.”

At Pittcon 2012--happening this week in Orlando, FL--NanoSight is touting its reportedly unique (photonics based) ability to facilitate research in this area, which has taken off thanks to recent recognition of exosomes as potential biomarkers. The particles appear to be involved in cell signaling, Warren says: They carry signaling proteins as well as messenger and microRNAs. Circulating levels of exosomes are found to be elevated in various disorders, including cancer, atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, hematological and inflammatory diseases, and diabetes.

Exosome research has reportedly been constrained by a lack of suitable characterization methods, but NanoSight says that its nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) technology is unique in allowing direct, individual visualization and counting of specific exosomes in liquid suspension in real time: Laser light illuminates the particles, and a video camera captures the scattering.

Stay tuned for more news from Pittcon 2012...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

BiOS 2012: Nothing uncertain about business in biophotonics

The Biomedical Optics Symposium (BiOS) of Photonics West 2012 opened yesterday. The number of papers has held steady from last year at about 1800--which James Fujimoto (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Rox Anderson (Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard School of Medicine) consider great in this "uncertain economy," they said while introducing last night's Hot Topics session. Vendors in the exhibit hall reported nothing uncertain about their life sciences business, though, and event organizers note that the exhibits grew 15% over last year's event.