The Impact of Optics in Life Science and Medical Markets

Today, life science researchers and medical professionals employ the use of a wide range of tools, equipment, and systems for a variety of applications, ranging from laboratory work and test diagnostics to surgical procedures.

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Equipment like optical microscopes, fluorescence readers and internal optical scopes are used across a wide variety of end test applications. For many of these instruments, precision optical components and optical assemblies are truly enabling and play a crucial role in creating, guiding and detecting light and producing meaningful data and images to aid clinical researchers, doctors and other healthcare practitioners in accurate and reliable critical care decisions for humans and animals. 

As their utilization significantly affects the health and wellbeing of patients, optical-based technologies generally come with strict design requirements, such as compact and tight optomechanical tolerance design, high magnification with low image distortion for microscope-based instruments, as well and portability in point of care medical diagnostic applications. Additionally, many are subject to Federal Drug Administration regulations.

The following article offers insight into how these optical components and optical assemblies impact various life science and medical diagnostic applications, such as genomic analysis (e.g. fluorescence-based DNA sequencing), cell analysis (e.g. flow cytometry), microscopy analysis (e.g., tissue pathology), and hospital surgeries (e.g. surgical robotics) to name a few. 

Fluorescence-Based Imaging and DNA Sequencing

Optical technologies have significantly improved the capacity of DNA sequencing. One process, known as optical DNA mapping (ODM), allows clinical researchers and medical experts to visualize long-range genome sequence information along single DNA molecules. By labeling (with fluorescent dye), stretching, and imaging individual DNA molecules, they create optical maps. The data gathered in these maps is then used to identify long-range structural variations, map epigenetic marks and DNA damage present across a genome and aid the DNA sequence assembly of complex genomes. 

When used in such applications, optical technology opens up opportunities for clinical researchers to make crucial medical advancements to help understand and develop new treatments for a myriad of different diseases (e,g, cancer). A recent example of the power of fluorescence-based DNA analysis, researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research used ODM  to reach a genetic breakthrough crucial to the future treatment of schizophrenia.1 Similar discoveries may be in store regarding other medical diagnoses and treatments as the technology continues to develop.

Advanced Medical Diagnostic Imaging

Medical imaging technologies allow healthcare practitioners to create images of the human body to aid in diagnostic applications. The images captured range from macroscopic sections of the body such as internal organs and the skeletal system to microscopic segments, depending on the equipment employed. 

As the field of image-based diagnostics expands, so too does the need for advanced optical technologies capable of peering inside the body. Important examples include whole-animal imaging in clinical research, where scientists use fluorescent markers to bind to tumors and use visible or near-infrared light to detect the location of the tumors for removal. A second example is image-guided fluorescence imaging (FIGS), an endoscope-based approach to identifying and removing cancerous tumors inside the patient, again using fluorescence-based detection. A third example is in the rapidly growing field of robot-assisted surgery, where a variety of optical modalities can be used in surgical procedures where the surgeon views the inside of the patient and controls robotic arms to remove malign tissue, such as cancerous tumors. In each application, precision optomechanical assemblies and components such as fluorescence filters are crucial and it is important to invest in quality, precision optics to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the procedure and the safety of the patient. 

Image-based Analysis

Microscopes have been central to physical examination applications for some time. Optical microscopes—the most common type employed—allow experienced health professionals to analyze and identify various specimens and chemical compounds to aid in patient diagnoses.  

Microscopes have been at the heart of medical imaging applications for centuries, where images of cells and other biological samples were captured in reflection or transmission using white light. With the invention of the laser and advances in LED light source technology a myriad of imaging modalities are employed, including fluorescence imaging, Raman spectroscopy, and near- and mid-infrared (NIR, MIR) covering the ultraviolet to mid-IR wavelengths. An important example of the convergence of the old and new is the development of MIR microscopy for imaging slices of resected tumor masses in brain surgery to help surgeons identify tumor margins in real-time during surgery. Coherent Raman and fluorescence imaging approaches are also emerging as new optical weapons for daily surgical procedures. High transmission optics that perform repeatedly over several years are crucial to the acceptance of these microscopy methods as new tools in the operating room and beyond.

Optical Solutions From JML Optical

At JML Optical Industries, the medical technology market is one of our premier areas of expertise. Our extensive industry experience and application knowledge allow us to partner with medical OEM instrument developers from design to prototype to production, providing quality technical design expertise and precision, high-performance and long-lasting optical product solutions suitable for instruments used in clinical research laboratories as well as in industrial and medical pharmaceutical operations, and more. 

We serve as a connection point between technology and biology. Our customers range from disruptive medical device start-up companies to large, global life science and medical equipment manufacturers, all of whom create products that impact the lives of people worldwide. The components and complete assemblies we supply help them achieve that goal and regularly find application in the following systems:

  • Genome Sequencing Instruments (Optical)
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Digital PCR
  • Confocal Fluorescence Microscope Platforms (High-content Screening, Cell Imaging)
  • Raman, NIR and MIR Spectroscopy & Imaging
  • Robotic Microscopes
  • Pharmaceutical Drug Production

For additional information about our optical solutions or to discuss an upcoming project with one of our experts, contact us or request a quote today. 

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1Sekar et al., Nature, 530, 177–183 (2016).

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