Living Photonics

To date, in all biophotonic systems, the cell culture or the tissue is simply the unknown variable in the equation that needs to be solved. How simple the equation becomes depends on how powerful (in terms of sensitivity, selectivity and resolution) the detection system and the procedure are. A game-changing concept is the use the cell culture as an active part of the biophotonic system. This new paradigm is addressed by visualizing a cell culture or tissue from a photonics point of view: it is a porous heterogeneous biomaterial with unique optical properties (spectral response, refractive index, etc.) which arise from its constituent elements i.e. the cells and the surrounding extracellular matrix. When grown over an engineered material, the cell culture/tissue confines light, giving rise to the “Living Photonics" concept. Hence, the cells form the photonic system and play the dual role of transducer and reporter element. Due to the strong interaction between the light and the cell constituents, the properties of the confined light change as a function of the cell type and status, resulting in a unique, highly specific, measurable response, which has been called Photonic Fingerprint (PIN). To date, the living photonics concept has been successfully validated with several cell types. Here, two different main objectives with a different perspective (photonics and cell biology) are simultaneously addressed:Define living photonics which, thanks to the cell properties, are self-healable and reconfigurable.

  • Define living photonics which, thanks to the cell properties, are self-healable and reconfigurable. 
  • Obtain an unprecedented amount of photonic information related to the different cell cultures used for defining the PICs, including testing of new drugs, studying different physiological states, secretomics, metabolomics, etc.


Living photonics structure. Light guiding can be seen from
the input (left)to the output (right) waveguide

Cell culture four hours after the seeding phase,
with the living photonics structure still not fully implemented

Aplicacions1. Testing of new drugs. Determination of their minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC).2. Study of the physiological conditions of cell cultures.3. Early disease diagnose, including the different disease evolutionary stages.4. Identification of the different cell types in accordance to its PIN.5. Personalized therapy, by culturing cells extracted from patients.