Episode 2 - The Art of Life Science
In this episode, “The Art of Life Science”, our host, Melissa Mahl talks with guests John Freiermuth and Stefan Gliech, both with Materion Balzers Optics, to learn how they enable their Life Science customers to develop technologies that detect disease, prevent illness and improve quality of life through advancements in microscopy and bio photonics.
Melissa Mahl, Engineering Supervisor, Fabrication Solutions
John Freiermuth, Vice President, Business Development
Stefan Gliech, Product Manager
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If the past 18 months of living through a global pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that our society craves expectations for advancements in technologies. Technologies that are related to disease detection, prevention, and a quality of life. Today we are going to explore an industry known as life science. Here at Materion, we support the life science industry, with the state of the art, custom built optics and filters that help our medical professionals discover ways to improve our health. With this technology, advancements in microscopy, and bio photonics, each are aiding in medical research breakthroughs. Welcome to Materion’s podcast “Minds Over Materials”, where we are discussing the art of life science. I am your host, Melissa Mahl, and joining us today is John Freiermuth, Vice President, Business Development Officer, and Dr. Stefan, Gliech, Product Manager for Materion Optics Balzers in our Jena, Germany facility, where these two gentlemen have mastered the art of capturing, bending and filtering light in these life science applications. Hello, and welcome, John and Stefan, how are you guys?
01:44-John and Stefan
Fine. Thank you. Hello.
Wonderful. Thank you. So John, I'm going to get started with you. Can you tell us what is the role of photonics in life science?
Well, photonics and optics are actually a key technology for a wide set of application. And so just in the life science area, so if I if I have to sum it up, usually photonics are used to observe or detect something contactless or by looking at it from a distance, which means that the object is not affected directly. And this is a big advantage in many life science applications, at least it's a benefit. Very common examples are just simple optical microscopy, right, you used to look at cells or tissue, or thermal imaging, thermal cameras, if you have flown recently, so you might have seen at the airport thermal cameras that actually take your body temperature from a distance and quite far away. So that's, that's a big advantage, right? You can do it kind of undercover, or without touching anybody. And then there are also other more sophisticated 3D scanning applications, like an intraoral scanner used in dentistry, where such a scanner can create actually a very precise 3D model of your teeth, that can then be processed further. So, this is like the detection side of the application. If I take a high-power light source, for example, like a UV light, or maybe a laser, a highly condensed laser, then I can use photonics to modify tissue. For example, UV sanitizing, you take a simple UV lamp, you expose your item with strong UV lights, and it will kill and decompose all the germs on that item. The problem is it decomposes a lot of other stuff too. So, depending what it's made of, might not be so good. And but let's say you take a laser, so you have more control and you can focus on over a small spot, then you can perform surgery with that laser. So, you could cut tissue in a very precise manner. The common example there is eye surgery, so called LASIK, where you do vision correction right with a laser. The last topic I want to mention which is very important, and a lot of concepts are based on his so-called fluorescence detection or fluorescence imaging. What does that mean? Basically, what you do with that is you attach a marker to cell, or a protein, or a molecule and you make it glow. And because you make it glow, you'll be able then to look at it or observe it, or you will be able to just create more contrast within an image and distinguish between different types of tissue or cells, bacteria, viruses, etc. There's also non imaging applications where you can use this to for DNA sequencing or polymerase chain reaction, right nowadays known as PCR, which most people have heard of, nowadays, because of the COVID pandemic.
Sounds like you are in so many applications ranging from thermal imaging at airports to dentist equipment for your teeth molds, all the way to stem cell research, it almost appears that that is a wonderful to hear, and how exciting it must be to be in this career.
Yeah, that's, that's really the fun part of our industry. And it's not just in life science, but the optics. It's a small industry. But it's all over the place. So, we have to deal with all these very different kinds of properties and applications of the optics, which is very challenging, but at the same time, as you said, it's very interesting.
So, Stefan, I'm excited to hear from you from your perspective, this life science, can you start to talk with us about fluorescent filters and our solution for fluorescent detection?
Yes, of course, but first of all, I have to give a very short introduction what fluorescence is. Fluorescence is the effect of a substance to emit light with longer wavelengths as it was illuminated. There are two different methods to creating fluorescent samples, the first one is intrinsic fluorescence that means, the object of interest itself has the fluorescence effect implemented and another one is labeling with an additional fluorescence molecule called fluorochromes and therefore, is illumination light was called excitation light and emitted light have different wavelength ranges. Fluorescence filters can be used to separate both wavelength ranges, and the fluorescence filters must ensure that we have no crosstalk between the excitation and the emission channel into setup. And therefore, we need optical filters with high transmittance and the passband region, and the deep blocking in all other wave lengths ranges. As the shift between the excitation and emission range ranges should be small, we need also steep spectral edges between the passband and the blocking region. And the normal filter set consists of an excitation filter and emission filter, and in many cases also is a beam splitter used.
That sounds so fascinating, I don't even know where to start with that. So, so, can you tell us what type of applications these filters are used in?
There are a lot of examples for using these filters. First of all, John told us is a PCR detection that means the detection of COVID-19 infections, but you can also fluorescence filters for blood inspection means for monitoring of glucose level in the blood. You can use fluorescence filters for measurement, oxygen in liquids, that is necessary for environmental control in water network systems. Then you will have a chance to detect organic parts in paint, like in car painting, to checking the agent resistance and also in microscopy, as John told, you have a chance to inspection for instance, living cells, that allows us to have a better understanding of microbiological processes.
Certainly, did we did we discuss what are some current developments in microscopy?
One of these developments is super resolution microscopy, that allows us to break the diffraction limit in the light that means, now we can see details smaller than the wavelengths as the inspected light has. For example, in a normal microscope, we are able we are not able to separate structures smaller than 530 nanometers with the elimination of green light. But now we are able to see structure smaller that's 530 nanometers, for instance, also at 300 nanometers. So, it's a huge step for inspection of cell structure. And our filters for fluorescence and detection supports the development was high performance like deeper blocking and steeper spectral edges. Another development is the use of linear variable for fluorescence microscopy. These have special effects to shift the spectral edges with shifting of the illumination area over the filter surface. With normal fluorescence filters, you are limited to exactly one specific spectral passband for the excitation and another for the emission filter. If you need to inspect with other spectral bands, you have to change the fluorescence filter set. With linear variable filters, you are able to adapt your device with shifting the filters in your optical channel by hand or motorized. Therefore, you are more flexible and faster in your inspection process. Of course, we are also offer linear variable and are able to adapt our existing solutions to the customers need.
And, you did say you're in business development. So, I assume you reach out to all of your customers and follow up with them on their experience with all of your product mixes. And that just must be so fulfilling to know that you are making such an impact out in the global community. So, I have to say, as you guys stated you build custom state of the art optics and filters. And so, where do you see this technology trending towards in the future? So, John, let's get started with you. What do you think some of these trends are?
Well, they're actually kind of similar with some mega trends that we see in other industries. Or to put another way, some trends that we see in other industries, they kind of they kind of swap over to life science. So, one thing is digitalization, right. So, using like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, etc. It's used in industrial and consumer applications. And more and more also, people find ready good applications in the life science domain. And as also everywhere else, devices are shrinking. So, they become portable, or even wearable. And a more powerful. So, I think a good example, for digitalization is the example I mentioned before the intraoral scanner. You have to imagine that as like a basically an oversized toothbrush with a with a camera at the tip, or a lens or to tip instead of your brush. And what the dentist does, he puts it into your mouth and scans your jaw, right? With high precision. And so already that if I just stopped there, that's just great improvement. You know, remember the days you know, you have this, this mold or this this sticky thingy, up your up your jaw to take the imprint. I mean, I just I'm scared of it, still now. And so, so already, just that, you know, without anything else, I think major improvements, of course, it's probably, it's much more expensive to have this scanner just on its own instead of the sticky thingy, sorry, my English is limited. So, but I think you know what I'm talking about. Now imagine, within a couple of minutes, the dentist has a complete 3D model, an electronic 3D model, of your teeth. And instead of sending this imprint that has to dry to the lab, and then the lab making sort of, you know, like the form of it to copy the shape of your teeth and then start working on there with the implants. What happens now is the dentist can just wire your file directly to the lab. And if they're very advanced, they, they probably need to do some editing time, you know, some corrections, but basically they can either 3D print, or with a 3D CNC machine, they just fabricate to fitting part, whatever to process the prosthetics or maybe the brace or whatever is needed, according to that electronic file. So, it saves a lot of time. A lot of costs times all this cost, right. And the only thing that's been actually shipped around is that the final part that needs to go back into your mouth. And before it was like, you know, an imprint or it was like several stuff going back and forth. And it took like weeks. And now technically, it takes couple of days. I think it's even going in a direction where the dentist could have a 3D printer in his own clinic and do it right away for maybe simple things. So, I think this is a really nice example where we're moving into a direction which, you know, actually we are from online shopping. We are used to this kind of things already because we use them every day without even knowing artificial intelligence. I mean, if we do online shopping, it's just all over the place. But it almost takes longer to go into industry or life science, but we see that and as photonics enables sort of simplification, and collecting a lot of data. So that's why you, we think we're in a good spot, because we can provide the filter side components for those, and the intraoral scanner is a perfect example.
Absolutely. Going back to your dentistry example, I, I'm just thinking parents around the world are just thrilled. But that concept of a 3D model of the teeth. I, from past experience, am aware of that mold going over your teeth and having to sit there with while the foam expands and how uncomfortable it is. And to have a child maybe that is sitting in that seat, and just discomforted as it is, just what an amazing way that technology is to advance just these simple procedures with their children to make it more pleasant to go to the dentist.
Because you mentioned glucose monitoring, right? Because most people know someone who is diabetic, and I think this is a very, this is a very interesting topic for many people. So, this goes with digitalization and artificial intelligence. Now we have, we have sensors now and devices that are able to collect a huge amount of data, right? Think of heart rate measurement, if you are, if you're an athlete, or a sports fanatic, in the old days. I mean, like, like, I'm old. So, in the old days, I had this breast belt. And, and this device here to measure just my heart rate, I was lucky enough, it even had a timer. But basically, this was my heart rate measurement device. So nowadays, something has changed. So, if you if you have like a wearable sports watch, you can now measure the heart rate from your wrist, it's not a perfect, but it works fine, you know, you don't need that belt anymore. And now to take a step further. So, I think currently state of the art, what you effectively can buy, when sport watches is you, you can measure blood oxygen saturation, from the same sensor or from a next development developed sensor. And you can even, you can even do a sort of an ECG. So electrocardiogram, like a simple one, but it's still good enough to detect some, you know, aberrations and estimate that you might be having a heart attack soon, or at least you know, something is strange, better go see a doctor best case, it can predict the heart attack, and call the authorities call 911 or someone else. So, this is where we are today. And, and it's still all in here, it's not medical grade. But obviously, there's a lot of benefit. The next stage is to have continuous glucose measurement or drug monitoring, you know, if you use certain of your own certain metrics, and actually, that's it, it's already there, people don't have to do it, it's all about you know, you have to you have to make it good enough. So, it's a certain relative reliability, and then it needs maybe FDA approval, etc. but this is where it's going. And it's staying in here. So that's, it's kind of scary, but also really exciting at the same time. And this is just possible because of one thing it is the photonics. So, the sensors become better and better. And can, you know, can resolve your, whatever data they take better and distinguish. And the other thing is, of course, the whole software side, the algorithm side artificial intelligence, that then can handle this vast amount of data and read something out of it. And this also is getting better and better. And so, what we see our kind of want to sum it up is that we see a lot of life science applications, which you know, we find in hospitals or clinics are kind of moving also a little bit into lifestyle. Because the type two diabetes patient, of course for them, I don't need to explain how important glucose monitoring is, right? They will be able to, to dose their insulin dose much more accurately. But what we see already today is there are some athletes, or food enthusiasts, which can monitor the change of the glucose level based on what they eat, and use this to optimize their diet, or their performance if you're an athlete. So, it's really there's certain things or even moving to lifestyle technologies that come out of the life science domain.
I think you've hit such a great point there that your life sciences really all about the lifestyle. A couple of your examples that you gave were just amazing. Thank you for sharing that. How empowering. So, Stefan, let's transition over to you. What are some future goals of our life science products?
We don't produce products itself, we support our customers to develop the next generation devices, for instance, that was what John told. And our goal is to support the customers with our filters. And therefore, we conditionally improve our coating technology, our measurement technique to produce filters with higher performance to achieve such kind of resolutions to detect 12 or more different blood values with one measurement, or whatever. And for that, our filters need that what as I told before, deeper blocking levels, steeper edges and higher transmittance.
Thank you for that. Absolutely. And, John, I guess the same question back to you. What are the future goals of our life science products?
So, I think it's, yeah, all the technical side is what Stefan mentioned, right? We are pushing performance, we're trying to stay at the edge of technology for our core competence, which is thin film coating, but also getting smaller, you know, miniaturization, as I mentioned before going to wearables or point of care products, portables. And which at the same time, making it smaller usually means making it scalable. So being able to produce more of it as we go direction, maybe sometimes lifestyle, but also making it more cost effective.
Absolutely. Well, in closing, I just want to thank you gentlemen, today, for your time. I certainly sense the passion that you both have in this industry. And I thank you for educating me and our audience with these fascinating, life-altering products. We hope that this episode provided clarity as to what we do here at Materion Optics Balzers. And thank you for your time today. Until next time, explore, inspire, deliver and repeat. Goodbye.
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