Photonics North emphasizes biophotonics

Biophotonics was the talk of the town at this year’s Photonics North symposium (Sept. 12-14), sponsored by the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE; Bellingham, WA).

TORONTO, CANADA - Biophotonics was the talk of the town at this year’s Photonics North symposium (Sept. 12-14), sponsored by the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE; Bellingham, WA). With technical conference topics on nanoparticles in biology, optical biochips and biosensors for nucleic acids and proteins, photonics in medicine, imaging systems for information acquisition, photonic devices, optical communication systems and networks, nonlinear optics, nanophotonics, and microwave photonics, it was clearly evident from the large attendance in the biophotonics-related sessions that this emerging discipline has become a major emphasis for Canadian companies.

In fact, reflected in the conference plenary sessions and in the International Photonics Forum co-located with Photonics North was the theme that the Canadian technology investment made in photonics during the telecommunications bubble has become the enabler for commercialization of products serving the biophotonics market.

“If you look around the world at where companies have taken their telecom investment, the United States is focusing on security and defense, Asia is heavy in optical display technology, Europe is leading the way in solid-state lighting, and it looks like Canada’s best angle may be in photonics for health care,” said Paul Jay, executive director of the Canadian Photonics Consortium (Ottawa, ON, Canada), which organized the International Photonics Forum.

While Jay admits that the word “photonics” is still somewhat obscure in the mind of the public-an image problem that was apparently debated at some length during the International Photonics Forum-consumer devices such as cell phones and miniature displays are driving a greater awareness of the benefits of photonics. The full-day International Photonics Forum was designed to specifically address strategies for developing international photonics opportunities and awareness through presentations and discussions in several key areas: biophotonics, imaging and display technologies, and solid-state lighting. The forum included a review of organizational, contractual, and legal challenges arising in international collaborations, and concluded with an overview of the positive conditions that exist for conducting business and research within Canada.

The telecom investment theme was also echoed in the second plenary presentation on Tuesday morning by Brian Wilson of the Ontario Cancer Institute and the University of Toronto, entitled “Biophotonics: from Lab to Clinic.” Wilson illustrated how telecom technical advances and associated miniaturization of laser and optical components is now allowing many fiber-based measurements such as those used for photodynamic therapy (PDT). Defining biophotonics as the convergence of light and life, Wilson named PDT, optical coherence tomography (OCT), fluorescence spectroscopy, the camera pill, and optical gene chips as among the major technical achievements in biophotonics over the last five years. A supporting plenary on Monday morning by Julia Levy of QLT (Vancouver, BC, Canada) discussed the future of PDT in medicine-and highlighted the success of their Visudyne product, the first approved PDT system for treating age-related macular degeneration.

The exhibit floor, which was heavy with booths promoting university photonics programs and various Canadian consortia, also housed a wide range of optics and optoelectronics companies and several biophotonics companies. Theralase Technologies (Toronto, ON, Canada) showcased its high-end therapeutic medical laser unit, the Theralase TLC-1000, which has received FDA clearance for the U.S. marketing for noninvasive pain management, therapy for musculo-skeletal arthritic and rheumatologic disorders and for biostimulation and accelerated wound care and healing. Meyer Burger (Steffisburg, Switzerland) was promoting its precision slicing equipment for the semiconductor, photovoltaic, and optics/ceramic industries. And ClaireLasers (Kitchener, ON, Canada) was showing the many applications for its solid-state lasers in micromachining, biomedical research, LIDAR, and spectroscopy applications.

With more than 110 exhibitors and nearly 300 technical papers and poster presentations in 9 categories, Photonics North 2005 provided an excellent opportunity for networking and for highlighting those industries and markets, such as biophotonics, that are gaining momentum both regionally and internationally.

Photonics North 2006 will be held June 5-8, in Quebec, Canada.

- Gail Overton

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