10 May 2007
Researchers from the UK and Italy present a review of the applications of optical fibers in medicine and biology.
Peter Rolfe from Biohorizons Ltd, UK, and Fabio Scopesi and Giovanni Serra from the University of Genoa, Italy, discuss developments in fiber-optic sensing for medical and biological applications, which range from light-pipes and pressure or displacement sensors through to complex chemical sensors (Meas. Sci. Technol. 18 1683-1688).
While optical fibers are perhaps best known in connection with communications applications, but fibers fabricated from polymers, glasses and other specialized materials have been used in biomedical sensing applications for more than half a century.
Early applications focused on visual examinations, such as endoscopic imaging, but the range of applications has evolved rapidly. Fibers can now be used to deliver light to tissues, for example to activate targeted chemo-therapeutic agents, and chemical sensing can be accomplished by using fibers to transport light to and from a measurement site for spectrophotometric or fluorimetry analysis.
The researchers also discuss a further family of fiber-optic chemical sensors suitable for specific molecular detection, which can achieve high specificity biological recognition using enzymes or antigen-antibody binding. The range of potential target molecules has increased rapidly over recent years from simple gases and ions through to large molecules acting as biomarkers of cell function or malignant disease.
Advances in fiber and related technologies are rapidly expanding the capability of these fiber sensors, and technologies for specialized fiber structures are now available to create important and powerful new biomedical sensors.