Optical microsystems enable fast diagnosis of diseases
If a patient goes to the doctor with non-specific symptoms, the doctor requires a very high degree of diagnostic skill. Technical solutions based on microsystems can support doctors in searching for the cause of the illness using visual imaging as well as optical and chemical sensor technology. Fraunhofer IPMS is working at the MEOS “Microelectronic and Optical Systems for Biomedicine” Project Hub in Erfurt in an interdisciplinary collaboration with Fraunhofer IOF and Fraunhofer IZI on innovative systems enabling early disease detection.
Key components of the systems produced at the Project Hub are often the biosensors developed at Fraunhofer IPMS, which enable diseases to be detected using fluid analysis. For example, traces of special gases in exhaled breath are an early indication of different diseases, including cancer. Spectroscopic breath analysis can detect these gases, enabling timely diagnosis and therefore prompt treatment. Corresponding systems for chemical sensor technology that can be used in our daily lives using a MEMS ion mobility spectrometer can be made available as part of the rapid testing procedure. Miniaturized optical sensor technology is ideal for point-of-care diagnosis. This means that instead of a more time-consuming laboratory test, an analysis can take place directly on the spot. For this purpose, the sensor technology uses optimized components, such as micro-ring resonators with functionalized surfaces. The optical properties of these components are changed by docking antibodies on the surfaces, so that these can be detected with a high degree of sensitivity and a high throughput.
Optical microsystems from Fraunhofer IPMS can also help to differentiate between different types of cells easily and quickly. In this way, cancer cells, for example, are identified in a targeted manner using fluorescent markers. An optical system can differentiate between tumor tissue and healthy areas in real time and support doctors with surgical interventions across the entire tumor resection. In collaboration with the Helios-Kliniken Erfurt, Fraunhofer IPMS and Fraunhofer IZI are developing a fluorescence laser-scanning confocal microscope, for which a MEMS microscanner mirror is used to record images.
Furthermore, Fraunhofer IPMS is developing optical modules for high-resolution microscopy with significantly reduced phototoxicity together with partners in Erfurt. At the same time, optimized MEMS micromirror arrays from Fraunhofer IPMS that work as Spatial Light Modulators (SLM) operate in combination with special optics. By using two micromirror arrays in an extra engineered optical assembly, control of the light falling on the space as well as the angle and/or projection of defined patterns can be achieved. In this way, tissue samples can be examined as part of a very careful, high-resolution procedure.