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OSA Incubator on Label-free Optical Techniques for Biomedical Diagnostics & Imaging: Challenges and Opportunities for Clinical Translation

16-18 September 2015
OSA Headquarters, 2010 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC, USA


Hosted By

Paul French, Imperial College, United Kingdom
Laura Marcu, University of California - Davis, USA
Robert J. Nordstrom, National Institute of Health, USA
Juergen Popp, Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, Jena, Germany
Brian Wilson, University Health Network, Canada 

Read the white paper produced by the meeting organizers based on contributions from the Incubator.

Read the blog posts on this meeting

Incubator Goal

The goal of this Incubator is to evaluate the main bottlenecks for clinical translation of label-free optical techniques including technological and regulatory challenges, to identify potential solutions and to develop prioritized list of recommendations.


Label-free optical diagnostic techniques can measure intrinsic tissue optical properties such as absorption, scattering, autofluorescence, Raman or polarization response. Label-free techniques have the advantage of providing direct nondestructive in-situ or in-vivo assessment of biochemical, structural and functional changes in tissues and cells thus are compatible with real-time and dynamic evaluation of such changes, including for clinical diagnosis and monitoring of therapies. Potentially they can achieve this at relatively low cost with scope for wide (point of care) deployment. A range of spectroscopic and imaging technologies (e.g. fluorescence, Raman, reflectance/backscatter, near-infrared, optical coherence tomography) are emerging as potential tools for characterization and diagnosis of biological tissues.
Despite their inherent advantages, the translation of label-free optical technologies to clinical settings has not been widely adopted in medical practice. By bringing together experts from academia, industry, clinicians and government agencies, this Incubator will evaluate and address the current challenges facing the clinical adoption of label-free optical technologies and identify solutions to move forward. Additionally, we will discuss the potential alignment with major strategic initiatives including National Photonics Initiative (NPI), BRAIN Initiative, Advanced Manufacturing, BIG Data, Photonics21 WG3, and Initiative Photonik 2020.

Featured Topic

New paradigms for diagnosis and clinical management of health (e.g. improved diagnosis, real-time guidance of interventions/surgery, monitoring of the efficacy of therapy, and brain optical imaging) are needed. This can be achieved through development of novel photonics-based technologies and multimodal diagnostic platforms with mesoscopic and microscopic sensitivity/specificity and resolution; and through advancing new methods for analysis, visualization and correlation of biochemical, structural and functional characteristics of complex biological systems. Rapid label-free diagnosis of diseases in vivo can enable development of new clinical devices addressing a broad range of disorders including many cancers, cardiovascular, ophthalmologic and neurological diseases. Key topics to be addressed include:

  • Principles, physics and limitations of label-free optical techniques: Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT); Fluorescence, Raman, and Near/Mid-Infrared (NIR/MIR) spectroscopy and imaging; diffuse light and scattering spectroscopy; photoacoustics; and harmonic microscopy. Can they complement each other?
  • Medical needs and their translation into technological challenges: What is needed to make them useful in the clinic?  What safety standards exist or are needed?
  • Label-free techniques in clinical management of diseases: diagnostics, intervention guidance, stratified medicine, monitoring of therapy. Where can label-free techniques add value?
  • Label-free pathology: linear and nonlinear microscopy techniques, Where are opportunities for clinical histopathology and in vivo diagnosis? Is the community argetting the right challenges?
  • Label-free optical techniques in drug discovery: Opportunities and challenges – do label-free techniques add value to assays of stem cells, 3-D cell cultures, model organisms?  Can they reduce numbers of animals needed?
  • Challenges/barriers to clinical translation:
    • Engagement of clinicians
    • Costs: regulatory, reimbursement...
    • Knowledge transfer across the disciplines
    • Funding instruments across disciplines
    • Accepted standard operating procedures
    • Available/needed instrumentation
    • Availability/implications on use in developing nations



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