December 1, 2022

Nanophotonic devices: their uses and impact

The field of optics has always been essential to medicine. Before the invention of the microscope, the existence of germs was highly disputed and without advances in technology it would have been impossible to develop the germ theory.

So what developments in optics can create similar changes in medicine? Technology on all fronts is advancing rapidly – and with the quality of smartphone cameras increasing dramatically every year, the field of optics is certainly keeping pace.

When people think of “nanotechnology,” they often imagine tiny robots, but that’s not a completely accurate perception of devices. Nanophotonic devices manipulate and study light and its behavior on nanometer-sized objects, at the nanoscale. So, in addition to being a branch of nanotechnology, it is also the product of optical engineering.

More importantly, nanophotonic devices are the pinnacle of next-generation pharmaceutical technology and are leading the way to driving change in diagnostics and healthcare practice.

Dr. Sang-Hyun Oh, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says light-based sensors such as Biacore SPR have been the gold standard for characterizing receptor binding kinetics. -ligand in pharmaceutical R&D.

“Nanophotonic devices can push the limits of these instruments by trapping light in ultra-small volumes and dramatically enhancing light-molecule interactions. Furthermore, nanophotonics can add new functionality and information content such as revealing protein conformation or misfolding of previously inaccessible small molecule samples or potentially even down to the single molecule level.” , did he declare.

In other words, medical optics is set to experience another significant leap in technological sophistication in the future,

According to the journal Nature, one of the leading sectors of the biosensor market is that of diagnostic technologies, which support around 70% of medical decisions. Dr. Oh says that detecting disease or disrupted homeostasis as early as possible in all cases is ideal, but some conditions, such as autoimmune disorders and cancers like the esophagus and pancreas, do often too much damage undetected. The decisions doctors have to make if one of these cancers is detected at stage 1 versus stage 4 are very different, also resulting in different costs for patients and the healthcare system as a whole.

Nanophotonic devices are an effort to create the “future of biosensors”, in which undetectable devices are regularly worn and continuously monitor hormones, drug intake, the presence of toxins and viruses, and other biomarkers. Likewise, Dr Oh explains that there is high demand for it among GPs, who would much rather perform diagnostics on their patients while they are in the waiting room – or even before a visit, rather than sending blood and urine samples. to laboratories for clinical testing.

These devices, in turn, can improve patients’ self-care at home in addition to helping physicians treat their patients, as patients will be notified at home that something is wrong before they even consider going to their home. doctor. The most impactful aspect of this technology on health care could therefore be the prevention of countless sudden deaths. Never before has a technology emerged with the potential to help prevent unexpected negative health outcomes.

Clinical research and drug discovery

Overall, nanophotonic devices are able to shed light on molecules to find out which are present in specific parts of the body and what they are doing with high precision and sensitivity. Diagnostics is unlikely to be the only application medicine will find for nanophotonic devices, such as applications in clinical research and drug discovery. And where nanophotonic devices will find the most use in these facets of healthcare is where they fit together, namely in personalized medicine.

As nanophotonic devices can see what specific molecules are doing to specific unique individual body parts, including those related to drug interactions via chronic drug monitoring; direct observation data of these interactions and the storage of this data can be used in clinical research to advance personalized medicine – and, in particular, personalized treatment options, such as those conferred by pharmacogenetics.

Government funds, commercial organizations and private investors are all involved in investing in R&D for nanophotonic devices. Commercial organizations leading this charge include Burlington Industries, Mesa, and Nano-Tex. Globally, only 141 nanophotonic start-ups exist, but this technology is only at its commercial advent, not at its peak. With high demand for these devices, the future of nanophononics in medical practice is just beginning – and with technological advancements as rapid as they are now, the future of nanophotonic devices will further revolutionize medicine.


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