The Barcelona Medical Photonics Network: united to improve the health and well-being of society

By February 18, 2021ICFO

Eight prominent health institutions in the Barcelona area, their research institutes, and the BIST centre ICFO join forces through the creation of a network to bring cutting-edge photonic technologies to hospitals.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”. It is equally true that it takes close interdisciplinary R+D collaborations to bring children into the world, detecting, understanding, monitoring, and treating health issues they may develop throughout their journey to old age. Today we celebrate the consolidation of the Barcelona Medical Photonics Network, which promotes the research and development activities carried out in and around Barcelona through long-standing collaborations between ICFO and its numerous clinical partners.

Because of its exceptional versatility, precision, and non-invasive nature, photonics is playing an increasing role in medical techniques and practices, to the extent that today it is considered a key enabling technology in developing healthcare in Europe. Researchers at ICFO have extensive expertise in the development of photonic-based technologies for clinical use, in collaboration with doctors around the world, and especially in the Barcelona area.

Successful ‘bench-to-bedside’ translation of new technologies require the collaborative efforts of experts in different fields, ensuring that research around medical technologies is continuously aligned with the needs of citizens and society at large. After over a decade of close collaboration with hospitals and health care specialists in the Barcelona area, the formalisation of the Barcelona Medical Photonics network enables the solidification and expansion of the reach, scope, and impact of these critical relationships. This network is part of the Light for Health Programme at ICFO, an initiative that was launched and took root thanks to the impetus of the Cellex Foundation, and continued to grow through the continuous support from the “La Caixa” Foundation, Barcelona City Council, as well as state and European funds.

The Network aims to have an impact on society at many levels:

• Sharing and contrasting best practices for technology use, adoption and dissemination of results amongst care centres
• A formal structure that will allow for increased focus on a wide range of patient scenarios that ultimately improves patient outcomes
• Flexibility to participate as a block in international initiatives and projects, primarily from the European Union, to expand the common research goals of the network partners
• Preparedness for engagement in emergencies, such as COVID, to rapidly and effectively test new technologies to meet emerging requirement for critical patient care
• An expanded range of data points from around Catalonia (age, geography, pathologies) for testing technologies providing reliable and insightful analysis

The main established joint endeavors to date have spanned initiatives in disciplines such as neurology and neurosurgery, neonatal care, ophthalmology, oncology, intensive care monitoring, dermatology, rapid clinical analysis, rehabilitation, sports medicine, wellbeing, sleep disorders, and anesthesiology, among others.

The partner institutions initially participating in this network include:
• La Fundació Institut de Recerca de l’Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau,
• l’Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica Sant Pau, L’Hospital Clínic de Barcelona,
• L’Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS),
• L’Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, L’Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebrón,
• El Vall d’Hebrón Institut de Recerca (VHIR),
• L’Institut d’Investigació Oncològica de Vall d’Hebrón (VHIO),
• L’Institut d’Investigació i Innovació Parc Taulí,
• Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP),
• El Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili,
• La Fundació Institut Hospital del Mar d’Investigacions Mèdiques (IMIM)

The initiative is open to the participation of other entities that may contribute to its goals.

As Lluis Torner, Director of ICFO, highlights “It is incredibly rewarding to watch our science and technology, often based on very frontier physics, move into hospitals where it can help doctors better care for their patients. This journey requires a lot of perseverance and sustained support. Fortunately, for the past decade we have had this thanks to visionaries from the Cellex and ”La Caixa” Foundations, Barcelona City Council and the DGR of the Government of Catalonia. We thank everyone for their support and the doctors for their participation”.

Turgut Durduran, leader of the Medical Optics research group at ICFO, comments “Our goal is to see technologies enabled by advanced photonics in clinical practice. We will do that by working together with clinicians and biomedical researchers of this network, with industry and ultimately with governments. Barcelona area is a world-class place to achieve this goal with its diverse array of hospitals, research centres, and companies as well as the support infrastructure.”

On behalf of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer unit at ICFO, Ariadna Martinez, Coordinator of the Light for Health Programme at ICFO, emphasizes that “The ‘Light for Health’ programme at ICFO’ has been working for years to build the trust, understanding and types of productive relationships with doctors and clinical and biomedical researchers that we are consolidating today with the Barcelona Medical Photonics Network. Their knowledge of the patient’s needs, and their motivation to work with interdisciplinary partners to meet those needs, are the central pieces of this puzzle, without which new technologies would have no hope of saving lives”.

On behalf of the entities that have given support to the emergence of this network, Àngel Font, Corporate Director of Research and Health of ”la Caixa” Foundation says, “For more than 25 years, the ”la Caixa” Foundation has been continuously contributing so that basic research can be translated into to real medical solutions that improve clinical practice; striving so that the most promising research results reach patients as quickly as possible. We are proud to have been with ICFO in the “Light for Health” project for the last ten years and we congratulate them on their results, which convert the latest photonics advances into benefits for citizens’ health.

From the City Hall of Barcelona, Laia Bonet, Deputy Mayor for Agenda 2030 and Digital Transition, also stresses the importance of science and technology development by stating that “Barcelona needs scientific and technological collaboration spaces to promote research and innovation. Areas of collaboration between public and private sectors, between research centres and companies, and also between administrations. The Barcelona Medical Photonics Network is one of the best examples of this. An example of applied research and new technological solutions put to the service of improving health, using new techniques that will have a concrete effect on advancing healthcare solutions in the city’s hospitals. From the City Council we will collaborate with the Network on everything we can, as we have done to date with the ‘Light for Health’ programme.”

Finally, from the Government of Catalonia, Joan Gómez, Director General de Recerca, concludes that “ICFO is one of our world renowned research centres. There is no scientific domain, anywhere that light touches, where they do not compete with competence, taking risks and searching to push the limits of knowledge: they always work in unchartered territory. In the world of light, these range from the limits of the universe to the tiniest vessels of the human body. The father of the Gods was light, Zeus (his name literally meaning “light” in genitive), and ICFO is also light for all of us. It generates new knowledge with consistency and excellence. ICFO also knows that without technology transfer and outreach, science will not reach its full potential. I am proud to have spent a few years of my life helping to make some of their new projects a reality”.

More information on the ICFO website