"It is the responsibility of those of us involved in today's biomedical research enterprise to translate the remarkable scientific innovations we are witnessing into health gains for the nation." These words were written by Elias Zerhouni1 in a 2005 article on translational research for the New England Journal of Medicine. Although some time has passed since that article appeared, the truth of the statement remains, and while Zerhouni, then director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was speaking of biomedical research in its broadest terms, the same can be said about the focused field of biophotonics. There is no doubt that the field of biophotonics is accumulating a vast number of remarkable scientific innovations at the basic research stage, and that there would be a sizeable benefit to national health if these innovations were translated into clinical utility. The simple truth, however, is that very few biophotonic innovations are making their way through the translational pipeline into clinical acceptance.
Biophotonics is one of those grafted words, where biology and photonics are brought together to define a study of science and technology concerning the application, generation, manipulation, and detection of photons (quantum units of electromagnetic radiation) to solve biological problems. Biophotonics has become an accepted term for all methods dealing with the interaction of light at any wavelength with biological matter, and encompasses studies in medicine, life sciences, agriculture, and the environment. Interactions of light with biomolecules, cells, tissue, and organisms as targets can lead to information regarding the underlying nature of the target, offering opportunities for detection and diagnosis of composition or function. Under different circumstances, the interaction can produce controlled destruction, leading to localized therapy or surgical capabilities.
The enormous breadth of biophotonics makes a text of any reasonable size dealing with its translation from basic research to commercial realization a daunting task. Decisions regarding content and direction must be made, leaving the discarded material for another time and volume. This text focuses on the efforts made by four research groups brought together in a program funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) from 2008 to 2013. The Network for Translational Research (NTR): Optical Imaging in Multimodal Platforms will be presented in detail in the next chapter. The task confronting each team in the Network was to combine an optical imaging modality with at least one other clinical imaging modality and perform the needed research to move the combined platform in translation toward eventual clinical acceptance. While the four teams were each confronted with the usual challenges of scientific and technical hurdles during their research (if such challenges can indeed be called usual), a major topic of concern was the proper steps to take along an unchartered translational pathway to move the technology closer to the clinical goal. The network created by the four teams became the environment for reaching consensus on a number of decisions in this area. It was generally agreed that there was no pre-existing roadmap to guide translational research. However, although each team was focused on its own specific scientific research, the translational challenges facing the four teams were remarkably similar. This hinted to the possibility that a translation roadmap of broad utility in biophotonics might be possible.