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Big dreams and nanomedicine: optical nanotransformers

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Bernhardt, a physics research assistant in nonlinear optics at Washington State University, is  blogging on presentations at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, California, 28 August through 1 September.

Dream big dreams, create amazing solutions:
Paras Prasad offered inspiration in a talk on
how nanomedicine can save lives
Treating diseases in the human body can be incredibly difficult and certain cancers may even be inoperable.

In the opening all-symposium plenary at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2016, Paras Prasad, Executive Director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics at the University at Buffalo, New York, told how he aims to bring treatment directly to the source of the disease, using light.

Inspired early on by James Cameron's move Fantastic Voyage (1966), Dr. Prasad imagined sending something tiny into the human blood stream to specifically target disease. He turned science fiction into reality via nanomedicine.

Nanomedicine uses incredibly small devices, such as multilayered nanotransducers, to treat human diseases from inside the body. The first layer absorbs a particular wavelength of light. The next layer takes this absorbed energy and converts it to a higher or lower wavelength, which is then re-radiated.

The overarching idea is to take low-energy light, such as infrared, send it to a particular location in the body, then change the light to a different, more useful energy. IR light easily passes through the human body with very little damage. Nanotransducers absorb this light, turning it into useful, high-energy visible light, which is easily and readily absorbed by nearby cells. The cells are then destroyed, for an effective and potentially less dangerous way of treating cancer.

Dr. Prasad described another dream becoming reality, via the work of Nobel Laureate Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who developed the theory of two-photon absorption.

At the time, it was assumed experimental verification would never be possible. However, with development of the laser, two-photon absorption occurs every time one uses a green laser pointer.

Moreover, two-photon absorption can be used for dental bonding, killing bacteria, two-photon microscopy, and more. Indeed, Dr. Prasad showed materials applicable to night vision, security, and friend-foe identification. These materials appear to be different colors based on the light they absorb.

He challenged the audience to turn their own imaginings into reality as well. Perhaps the next project in optogenetics (using light to effect genes) will cure or help people with neurological disorders, or even enhance capabilities ... maybe one day neurophotonics will help Superman jump from the pages of a comic book into real-life super-human capabilities.

Note: On Wednesday 31 August, Dr. Prasad will receive the SPIE Gold Medal, the highest award of the Society, in recognition of his work.

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