Was the 2013 SPIE Startup Challenge a good barometer for the impact of life sciences in emerging applications of optics and photonics? This third edition of the business pitch competition (now held annually at Photonics West) was heavily weighted to life sciences: Of the 10 technologies presented, most were specifically geared to biomedicine. And though this year's winning technology was not bio-oriented, the rest at least had applicability to life sciences. The same was true of the 20 semi-finalists (http://spie.org/x91942.xml).
It's true that when the Startup Challenge was launched in 2011, it was a biophotonics-only event, but I don't think that explains the phenomenon entirely. In its second year, the event featured two divisions, one for biophotonics and one for optoelectronics—and bio applications dominated the optoelectronics division, too.
Regardless of why, the fact is that biophotonics is big and getting bigger. According to our admittedly nonscientific survey of optics and photonics developers, most have targeted life sciences as a top growth market (first or second). And again this year, the Biomedical Optics Symposium (BiOS) comprised nearly half of all presentations at Photonics West (see "BiOS dominates Photonics West 2013").
The 2013 BiOS Hot Topics session offered a few more indicators: In his presentation, Ben Potsaid of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said that approximately 16 million ophthalmic optical coherence tomography (OCT) procedures were done in 2010 alone. (Keep in mind that OCT was invented in the early 1990s.) According to Jonathan Sorger of Intuitive Surgical, robotic-assisted surgery has grown from one- or two-thousand operations a decade ago to a half-million in 2012 alone. (Intuitive's da Vinci was the first robotic surgery system to be FDA-approved in 2000.) And Ernst Bamberg of Max-Planck-Institut für Biophysik noted that optogenetics is currently used in more than 1,000 labs globally. (It's not even a decade old.)
Makes you wonder where the technologies presented in the Startup Challenge and in Hot Topics will be a decade from now. In his Hot Topics talk, Joe Culver of the University of Washington in St. Louis predicted that field of view, resolution, and wearability will come together in three years for functional optical imaging of the human brain. This technology rivals magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). And a startup called Cyto Wave Technologies is pursuing commercialization of the technology that Vladimir Zharov of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences described in his Hot Topics speech: The first-in-class device would detect metastatic cancer cells in circulating blood and destroy them with a laser!
One innovation featured at last year's (2012) Hot Topics was a finalist in the 2013 Startup Challenge: TomoWave Laboratories' Louis-3D laser optoacoustic ultrasonic imaging system. I urge you to check out all the finalists and winners here: http://spie.org/x88933.xml.