M. Vasileiadis, Alpes Lasers
22 April 2020
At first sight, lasers and personalised nutrition are two unrelated topics. A new approach, however, implemented within the EU funded project NUTRISHIELD brings significant benefits to novel nutrition approaches by taking advantages of recent developments in laser technology.
Figure 1. photograph of a QCL produced by Alpes Lasers
Personalised nutrition in general involves the processing of several measurements and data regarding the health condition, habits and other factors of the individuals; the goal is to feed dietitians and doctors with useful results and data and provide dietary guidelines. Usually, this involves the taking of samples such as urine to be processed in laboratories using complex equipment that measure the targeted biomarkers and other useful medical-related information. However, the necessity to transfer the samples to laboratory facilities creates a bottleneck to the available streaming of the targeted data due to the cost and time required to finalize the measurements. This poses a hindrance when artificial intelligent-enabled approach are pursued, which necessitates the availability of large amount of data. An ideal measurement approach involves the use of small or even portable devices of convenient and user-friendly operation that can provide reliable measurements. Moreover, the devices need to provide the results in a fast and automated way without the need for complex sample preparation. Importantly, the cost of such measurements can be kept low if no or little consumables are used. To this goal, spectroscopy-based equipment can be redesigned by taking advantage of novel lasers.
Spectroscopy is among the key technologies used in laboratory settings; these big, complex machines are widely used by the scientific personnel to provide reliable measurements. Infrared (IR) spectroscopy in particular are useful as most biological materials have strong fingerprint signals in the IR. While other spectroscopic tools rely on the use of lasers, until recently, IR spectrometers had to rely on the use of thermal sources (globars), a limiting factor for both the size of the machine, the ease of operation and the accuracy of the measurements (limited signal-to-noise ratio) as IR-emitting lasers were not available in practical configurations. This limitation changed with the advent of semiconductor mid-IR-emitting lasers, namely Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs) and Interband Cascade Lasers (ICLs). Such laser source have been developed during the last years and the technology has now matured, finding its way to a plethora of applications. NUTRISHIELD makes use of novel laser sources in the mid-IR developed by Alpes Lasers, a Swiss company pioneering in IR photonics. Alpes Lasers develops tailor-designed laser sources designed specifically to fulfil the purposes of NUTRISHIELD. Medical doctors and dieticians determine the need for the measurement of specific biomarkers of interest. Then, other NUTRISHIELD partners develop special equipment for the analysis of urine, exhaled breath and human milk from lactating mothers. The key component for such devices is the use of the novel, tailor-designed laser sources. By incorporating QCLs and ICLs, the new equipment is expected to significantly contribute to the further development of the personalised nutrition approaches enabling the accurate, fast and convenient measurements of the needed biomarkers.
Figure 2. Depiction of the part of the electromagnetic spectrum accessible by the sources developed by Alpes Lasers