From The Editor | September 19, 2023

24 Ways Biophotonics Improves Medical Imaging And Robotic Surgery

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor

GettyImages-1216142675 healthcare data

Biophotonics, when applied to medical imaging or robotic surgery, significantly advances healthcare by offering a multifaceted approach to diagnosis, treatment, and surgery while improving patient care and outcomes.

Biophotonics, medical imaging, and robotic surgery are integral to the advancement of modern medicine, significantly improving the diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions while enhancing the capabilities of healthcare professionals.

Before we take a look at how these three fields interconnect, let’s break each one down, starting with biophotonics which, according to Nature, “Is the study of optical processes in biological systems, both those that occur naturally and in bioengineered materials. A particularly important aspect of this field is imaging and sensing cells and tissue. This includes injecting fluorescent markers into a biological system to track cell dynamics and drug delivery.”

Biophotonics combines photonics with biology and medicine, focusing on using light-based technologies to understand, diagnose, and treat biological and medical processes. Biophotonics encompasses a wide range of applications, including optical imaging, spectroscopy, laser therapy, and microscopy, to investigate and manipulate biological materials at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. It has contributed to advances in areas such as cancer detection, drug delivery, and neuroscience research.

Biophotonics technologies include fluorescence, hyperspectral and diffuse-reflectance imaging, Raman spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and photodynamic therapy.

Medical imaging – more commonly known as radiology, is a central part of improved outcomes of modern medicine and is a set of techniques and processes that create images of the human body for diagnostic or treatment purposes, according to TechTarget. Different types of medical imaging procedures include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasounds, endoscopy, tactile imaging, and computerized tomography (CT scan).

Medical imaging plays a crucial role in diagnosing and monitoring diseases, as well as guiding medical procedures. It also helps in the early detection and treatment of various medical conditions.

Finally, robotic surgery, also known as robot-assisted surgery, which is a surgical technique that involves the use of robotic systems to assist surgeons during procedures, according to the Mayo Clinic. These systems typically consist of a robotic arm or arms controlled by a surgeon through a console with a high-definition 3D camera.

Robotic surgery offers several advantages, such as enhanced precision, improved dexterity, and the ability to perform minimally invasive procedures with smaller incisions. This can lead to reduced patient trauma, shorter recovery times, and better surgical outcomes. Common robotic surgical systems include the da Vinci Surgical System for various types of surgeries, including urological, gynecological, and cardiac procedures.

12 Ways Biophotonics Benefits Medical Imaging

“Biophotonic imaging has revolutionized the operation room by providing surgeons intraoperative image guidance to diagnose tumors more efficiently and to resect tumors with real-time image navigation,” writes the National Library of Medicine. These capabilities have a wide range of applications in research, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of various medical conditions, improving patient care and advancing our understanding of biology and disease.

Following are 12 ways biophotonics is being applied in medical imaging.

  1. Improved Imaging Resolution: Biophotonics techniques, such as confocal microscopy and two-photon microscopy, can achieve much higher resolution compared to traditional optical microscopy. This allows for the visualization of subcellular structures and processes with great detail.
  2. Non-invasive Imaging: Many biophotonics techniques are non-invasive, meaning they don't require the use of ionizing radiation or invasive procedures. This makes them safer for patients and reduces the risk of side effects.
  3. Functional Imaging: Biophotonics enables functional imaging, which means not only visualizing anatomical structures but also assessing their functional properties. Techniques like fluorescence imaging can be used to study cellular functions, such as gene expression and protein interactions.
  4. Real-time Imaging: Biophotonics techniques often provide real-time imaging capabilities, allowing clinicians and researchers to monitor dynamic processes in living organisms. This is particularly valuable in surgical procedures and studying disease progression.
  5. Molecular Imaging: Biophotonics can be used for molecular imaging, which involves tagging specific molecules with fluorescent markers and tracking their behavior in real time. This is crucial for understanding disease mechanisms at the molecular level.
  6. Early Disease Detection: Biophotonics plays a role in early disease detection. Optical coherence tomography (OCT), for example, is used for the early detection of eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration.
  7. Personalized Medicine: Biophotonics can contribute to personalized medicine by allowing for the characterization of individual patients' tissues and their responses to treatment. This information can guide treatment decisions.
  8. Minimally Invasive Procedures: Biophotonics can facilitate minimally invasive procedures by providing real-time imaging guidance to surgeons. This helps in precisely targeting diseased tissue while minimizing damage to healthy surrounding tissue.
  9. Drug Development: In pharmaceutical research, biophotonics techniques can be used to screen and assess the effects of potential drugs on cells and tissues. This speeds up the drug development process.
  10. Neuroimaging: Biophotonics has applications in neuroimaging, enabling the study of brain function and the diagnosis of neurological disorders. Techniques like functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) are used for brain imaging.
  11. Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment: Biophotonics is widely used in cancer diagnosis, including techniques like fluorescence-guided surgery and Raman spectroscopy. It helps in identifying cancerous tissue and monitoring treatment responses.
  12. Environmental Monitoring: Biophotonics is also applied in environmental monitoring, such as detecting and analyzing pollutants and pathogens in water and air.

And 12 Ways It Benefits Robotic Surgery

Biophotonics benefits robotic surgery by providing advanced imaging and sensing capabilities that enhance the precision, safety, and effectiveness of these procedures.

Here are 12 ways in which biophotonics benefits robotic surgery:

  1. Enhanced Visualization: Biophotonics techniques, such as fluorescence imaging and optical coherence tomography (OCT), can provide surgeons with real-time, high-resolution images of the surgical site. This allows for better visualization of tissues, blood vessels, and anatomical structures, even in areas with limited visibility.
  2. Tissue Identification: Biophotonics can help distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues by utilizing specific markers or contrast agents. This is particularly valuable in cancer surgery, where surgeons need to accurately identify tumor margins.
  3. Minimally Invasive Procedures: Robotic surgery is often used for minimally invasive procedures. Biophotonics can guide robotic instruments to precisely target and manipulate tissues while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
  4. Real-time Feedback: Biophotonics provides real-time feedback to surgeons during robotic procedures. This allows them to make immediate adjustments and ensure the accuracy of their actions.
  5. Fluorescence-Guided Surgery: Intraoperative fluorescence imaging is a biophotonics technique that uses fluorescent markers to highlight specific tissues or structures. This is particularly useful in identifying sentinel lymph nodes, tumors, or blood vessels during surgery.
  6. Nerve Identification: Biophotonics can help identify and preserve nerves during robotic surgery, reducing the risk of post-operative complications such as nerve damage.
  7. Vascular Imaging: Biophotonics techniques like angiography can be used to visualize blood vessels in real time, helping surgeons avoid accidental damage and control bleeding during robotic procedures.
  8. Image-Guided Navigation: Biophotonics can be integrated with robotic surgical systems to provide image-guided navigation. This allows surgeons to plan their movements based on preoperative imaging data and track their progress during the procedure.
  9. Assessment of Tissue Viability: Biophotonics can assess tissue viability in real-time, which is important for procedures like organ transplantation. It helps surgeons make decisions about tissue grafting and transplantation based on tissue health.
  10. Reduced Complications: By improving visualization and providing real-time feedback, biophotonics can help reduce surgical complications, post-operative infections, and the need for additional surgeries or interventions.
  11. Faster Recovery: Enhanced precision and reduced tissue trauma from biophotonics-guided robotic surgery can lead to shorter hospital stays and faster patient recovery times.
  12. Training and Simulation: Biophotonics can be used in training simulators for robotic surgery, allowing surgeons to practice and improve their skills in a safe and controlled environment.