The European population is ageing increasingly: the number of people today older than 65 relative to those in the working-age is assumed to double by 2045. Since age is a major factor for a higher probability of becoming ill, a large increase of corresponding illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes, many cancer subtypes like breast cancer in females and prostate cancer in males as well as lung cancer for both sexes , dementia and macular degeneration are possible concomitant effects.
However, age is, unfortunately, only one factor for death by disease: worldwide the number of corresponding incidences exceeds 30 million people per year just from the ten leading conditions like Cerebro- and cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases and stroke), cancer, sepsis and obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are not only serious diseases but also less severe conditions that afflict patients like infections of the gastrointestinal system or urinary tract infections, where new methods could help to decrease the burden.
Additionally, the prevention of diseases, early risk assessment, as well as the improvement of well-being are all important and represent persistent challenges that need to be tackled.
This early intervention starts with diagnosis, therapy and interventions in utero, at birth and beyond for conditions where the social burden is increasing as the society ages, for example, premature birth and congenital malformations. Here, a major trend is P4 Medicine (Predictive, Preventive, Personalised and Participatory), for which the instant diagnosis of major diseases is imperative.
However, our patients' illnesses and conditions are not the only issues at hand: our healthcare systems already struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing costs, a fight that will become more difficult due to our ageing society. Healthcare spending already accounts for nearly 10 % of our GDP, amounting to roughly €1 trillion per annum. In an ageing society, there will also be a decrease in the workforce, a trend that will inevitably lead to near full deployment in the future, which is already the case in many regions in Germany. At present, the supplies of care workers for the elderly and nursing staff are running short, a trend that will be amplified by the ageing of society as more patients require care.
Another non-age-related challenge is mobility. As demonstrated by the outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, high mobility leads to the spreading of infectious diseases over large areas in short periods with huge consequences for our health, well-being and economies. In many developing countries, healthcare is still underdeveloped, with affordable methods of increasing the health and wellbeing of their respective citizens yet to be found. While helping should be imperative, there are also large markets and opportunities outside of Europe, which could be served by European industry and therefore lead to increased growth.
Focusing on the instant diagnosis of major diseases, Work Group Health identified three sub-missions which will be pursued in Horizon Europe:
1. Advanced Photonic tools for life science industry as well as end-users (for example, medical doctors or research)
- Photonic tools for real-time proteomics, genomics, metabolomics
- Accelerating and enabling photonic tools for the pharmaceutical industry, understanding, regenerative medicine, personalised medicine, high throughput, high-content screening
- Photonic tools for understanding the origin of diseases beyond risk factors, finding pathways for treatment, photonics for health (nutrition, lifestyle, environmental influences, toxicity)
2. Affordable photonics-based real-time diagnostics to stratify and classify disease status monitor and assess treatment response for the practical implementation of precision medicine; optogenetics for the treatment of brain or heart diseases, for example; photonics for physiological treatment or photonic-assisted physiological treatment; photonics for interventional guidance (augmented reality); multiscale access to the body (depth of penetration/optical resolution)
3. Mobile photonics devices and advanced biosensors for instant point-of-care (-use) detection/diagnostics and treatment, that measure the patient's medical condition, transportable photonic devices for monitoring environmental parameters
The detailed Photonics21 Work Group Health photonics research and innovation priorities are outlined in the Photonics Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda.
The Work Group Health further has a dedicated section in the Photonics21 member area.