Two recommendations for health and medicine

Sept. 1, 2012
The National Research Council of the U.S. National Academies of Science has made two key recommendations for health and medicine in a report released by its Harnessing Light Committee on August 13.

The National Research Council of the U.S. National Academies of Science has made two key recommendations for health and medicine in a report released by its Harnessing Light Committee on August 13. The publication, called Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation, recommends goals for the future. The idea is to help policy makers and leaders advance the US economy and provide "visionary guidance and support" for future development of these technologies, which have fundamentally changed the life sciences.

The report is a follow-up to the NRC's 1998 study called Harnessing Light: Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century. The NRC determined that the new report was necessary partly because recent advances in bio-optics and -photonics have enabled not only significant improvement in the quality of health care, but also substantial cost reductions. Indeed, the report points out that these technologies are critical to providing "the most effective, lowest-cost approaches for diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease"-and for maintaining people's health.

The 2012 publication devotes one of its 10 chapters (chapter 6) to the discussion of biomedicine (among eight other application areas), although discussion of life sciences appears in many areas of the report. For instance, one of the earlier chapters quotes a 2010 study, called Lasers in Science and Industry (, that Thomas Baer of Stanford University and Fred Schlachter of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab wrote for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): That publication reported the three sectors upon which lasers have important impact, and ranked biomedicine in the economy's #2 spot, at $2.5 trillion in output during 2009-2010 (between the information technology industry at $4 trillion and the transportation realm at $1 trillion).

On September 12, 2012-Energy Secretary Steven Chu and former Intel CEO/Chairman Craig Barrett will have headlined an invitation-only briefing for lawmakers and staff, and a reception with federal agency staff, to discuss the report. Baer, a powerful advocate for biomedical optics and one of the Harnessing Light Committee members (in addition to co-author of the OSTP report), is scheduled participate. That's a good start to making sure the report gets sufficient visibility and traction in the US.

So what are the two key recommendations that Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation makes for life sciences?

1. That the US optics and photonics industry should create instruments to allow simultaneous measurement of all immune-system cell types in a blood sample.

2. That the industry should focus on ways to increase the rate at which new pharmaceuticals can be safely developed and proved effective.

In the meantime, we at BioOptics World are wondering, what do you think of the recommendations? Please take a look at Chapter 6 and then let us know at You can download the full report or individual chapters at

About the Author

Barbara Gefvert | Editor-in-Chief, BioOptics World (2008-2020)

Barbara G. Gefvert has been a science and technology editor and writer since 1987, and served as editor in chief on multiple publications, including Sensors magazine for nearly a decade.

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