Work Group 3
Life Science and Health

For most European countries, the projected demographic changes will have drastic consequences for European citizens and their healthcare systems. For example, the number of people older than 65 years will double by 2030, leading to a dramatic growth of age-related diseases including Alzheimer's disease, cardiac infarction, stroke, age related macular degeneration, diabetes, kidney failure, osteoarthritis, and cancer. Greater mobility of the population will result in the increased occurrence of pandemics. Therefore, providing adequate health care for all European citizens will require enormous efforts. These challenges can best be met through breakthroughs in and deployment of Biophotonic technologies, yielding new cost-effective methods for improved diagnosis and therapy. These same technologies can also serve to control water and food quality, thereby reducing diseases caused by contamination.

Major photonics needs

A major step towards tackling these challenges will be to focus Biophotonics research and innovation on the development of easy-to-access, minimally invasive, low-cost screening methods. These will be based on photonics point-of-care methods and technologies, providing a risk assessment of age and life-style related diseases (ideally risks factors for a combination of several diseases would be assessed simultaneously), thus establishing a reliable result within minutes.

Detailed investigation, employing more advanced diagnostic methods to locate and precisely evaluate the origin of the disease, would then be undertaken if the screening returned a positive result for one of the disease parameters. Improved diagnostic and interventional methods will be developed, based on improved multi-band (X-ray, Ultraviolet, Visible, Near/Mid/Far IR, Terahertz) photonics, spectroscopic and endoscopic devices.

These should provide more reliable and precise examinations than current 'gold standard' methods, without increasing examination costs or duration. An illustrative example is provided by the diagnosis of bowel cancer, where the established procedure (white-light colonoscopy) is neither precise nor sensitive enough to detect all cancerous lesions, and is considered too invasive a screening tool for the majority of the population. Improved screening should therefore indicate where further diagnostics was necessary, and improved diagnostics could precisely locate and analyse the disease, before therapeutic measures were initiated. These could incorporate multi-band photonics techniques to provide safer, personalised treatment methods, tailored for specific therapy and treatment monitoring.

In addition to their use for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, multi-band photonics methods could also provide preventative tools, for example, offering analytical methods to monitor and evaluate water and food with regard to quality and potential microbial contaminations. The methods that would be employed for this could be essentially the same as used for advanced screening, perhaps with minor adaptations for the specific target. There is considerable synergy with the sensing requirements for Work Group 5 Security, Metrology and Sensors, and it is therefore anticipated that there will be common solutions, making close collaboration in this field highly beneficial.

Further information

The detailed Photonics21 Work Group 3 photonics research and innovation priorities are outlined if you download the Photonics Roadmap.

You will find the Work Group 3 research and innovation priorities for Horizon 2020 Work programme 2016/2017 in the section Photonics PPP – Research and Innovation Priorities.

Information and presentations of the Work Group 3 workshops can be found in the Photonics21 member area.