In the most general terms biophotonics is the convergence of photonics and the life sciences.
Photonics - the science and technology of generation, manipulation and detection of light - uses photons, quantum-like particles of light, instead of electrons to transmit, process, and store information. The invention of lasers, a concentrated source of monochromatic and highly directional light, revolutionized photonics in the 1960s and brought us technological advancements such as bar code scanners, CD players, and, with fluorescence microscopes, the first taste of the power of biophotonics.
Today, biophotonics is widely regarded as a key science upon which the next generation of biomedical research instrumentation and clinical tools will be based. Although nature has used the principle of biophotonics for millennia (e.g., to harness light for photosynthesis and to create vision), it wasn’t until the recent past that a substantial transfer of photonics technologies to biological applications began to transform medical and life sciences.
Thanks to brighter light-emitting dyes, faster and more sensitive detectors, automation technology and computing capacity that can handle storing vast amounts of image data, it is now possible for scientists to probe the cellular and molecular mechanisms of life at unprecedented resolutions. The convergence of technological advances puts the formerly unthinkable within the grasp of scientific inquiry, offering unparalleled opportunities to understand the physiology of human disease and to find new ways to treat it.
The ability to probe and image (see) tissues is also leading to a wide range of novel diagnostic methods and therapeutic applications. Examples include coherence optical tomography (OCT), which has revolutionized the field of ophthalmology by allowing the early diagnosis of macular degeneration (MD) in the retina, and photodynamic therapy (PDT) approaches for treatment of cancers by retarding the growth of new blood vessels and vasculature.