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Optical Healthcare Technology: Interview with Scientist Jürgen Popp and Physician Michael Bauer

27 Apr | By Biophotonics.World
Optical Healthcare Technology: Interview with Scientist Jürgen Popp and Physician Michael Bauer
Image source: Sven Döring/Leibniz-IPHT Jena
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Prof. Dr. Jürgen Popp, scientific director of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena, and Prof. Dr. Michael Bauer, director of anesthesiology and intensive care at the University Hospital of Jena, have been working together for many years in the field of biophotonics with a focus on optical healthcare technology. For Biophotonics.World they take stock of the present and talk about the future of biophotonics.


Prof. Bauer, Prof. Popp, optically-based medical diagnostics and therapy will play a more significant role in the years to come. Why?

Michael Bauer: The occurrence of both age-related and widespread diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, respiratory diseases, and diabetes, continues to rise. These diseases are highly complex, and their course is often influenced by many factors that differ in range depending on the individual patient. In addition, the treatment of serious infectious diseases, such as sepsis, is often time sensitive. The standard diagnostic methods used to date provide reliable results; however, we doctors require more exact diagnostic methods to more quickly and precisely treat diseases. New optical methods proved to be very efficient alternatives or complements to routine techniques.

Jürgen Popp: Biophotonic technologies have been continuously developed over the course of the past ten years. They have the potential to add value to the diagnosis and treatment of the aforementioned medical diseases. Biophotonics can record and monitor cell conditions gently and in a non-contact way; with the help of light, we can quickly obtain biochemical and molecular information from bodily fluids and tissue without the need for a marker. Now, we are able to go one step further. In close collaboration with doctors, we develop state-of-the-art microscopic and spectroscopic methods and get them ready for clinical use. For example, we discovered an optical solution for the exact identification of plaque in the arteries. In arteriosclerosis, plaque deposits made of fat and cells accumulate on the inner arterial walls. If “arterial buildup” continues, this can lead to a heart attack or stroke. With the help of Raman spectroscopy, we receive information on the chemical composition of the deposits. Based on the results, the doctors initiate individual treatment. Life threatening plaque affords setting stents, but in many cases, drug treatment is sufficient.

Cancer is another example. We are researching and developing standard techniques for identifying and characterizing cancer tissue with the help of light. With these standardized techniques, doctors will be in a position to distinguish between healthy tissue and the onset of abnormal changes and even recognize the edge of the tumor during operation or during endoscopic examination.

An impressive example is the diagnosis of sepsis pathogens. We are currently working with the group of Prof. Bauer and research partners throughout Europe on a suitable biophotonic solution. The goal of our research and development work is a miniature laboratory which can be used to obtain the required information for appropriate treatment quickly from just a few drops of blood.

Also, the development of improved imaging methods and technologies to better understand cell processes and the genesis of diseases at the molecular level provides solutions to medical problems.


Prof. Bauer, Prof. Popp, you have been working close together in the field of optical healthcare technology for many years. Which synergies arise from this collaboration?

Michael Bauer: Both partners benefit from the bilateral exchange. First, scientists get to know how doctors work. At the same time, doctors become aware of the technological possibilities. Of course, existing needs and challenges should be identified and weighed together in advance. Second, by collaborating, laboratory prototypes can be tested in an application-oriented manner and ultimately validated for everyday clinical use. This is important because it allows appropriate adjustments.

Jürgen Popp: The long-standing collaboration helps us to identify research priorities along unmet medical needs and to close the gap between users and developers of biophotonic technologies. We apply the feedback from clinical end users to directly integrate it into the further development of a technology. A self-sustaining research can only be achieved by a close interaction and mutual exchange of knowledge. In Germany alone, over 150 companies, research institutions and universities combine their work forces in the biophotonics initiative, which provides the basis for close collaboration of physicians, natural scientist and technologist; thanks to funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).



How does the future of optical healthcare technology look like?

Jürgen Popp: Future photonics healthcare solutions will profit by multimodal approaches and point-of-care systems. Different complementary imaging techniques such as Raman, two-photon fluorescence microscopy and second harmonic generation combined with automated data and image analysis algorithms provide fast and accurate information about the sample. Today, we are already able to monitor the surgery of a brain tumor in real-time in the operation room using multimodal techniques and a fiber optical laser source. The system can be operated even by un-instructed staff. This saves a lot of time during surgery and improves the preservation of healthy brain tissue.

The next step will be to research and develop along the whole innovation chain with the objective to obtain product solutions that benefit the patients. To close the gap between applied research and market-ready products, we involve industrial partners in our networks from the beginning. With this strategy, we aim to bridge the so-called valley-of-death that so far often prevents the translation of research results into innovative products.

Michael Bauer: When we look ahead, we have to pursue current developments in medicine and healthcare such as emerging new antibiotic resistances or point-of-care diagnostic devices that enable the screening of a large cohort of patients for a specific disease with a rapid test. In approximately five years we aim to have a working Raman-microscope at the University Hospital Jena that can not only identify pathogens, but also their resistances in a couple of hours. Future biophotonic technological solutions will be only successful, if we manage to customize them to the medical needs. This demands a prompt translation of ideas into marketable products, which we will achieve by a spatially close collaboration of researchers, doctors and end users. Moreover, we need to establish infrastructures that take care e.g. of CE-certification, license approval and accounting – things that scientists usually don’t focus on.    

Category: Health
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