Five hot topics for 2007

They're hot areas of research and getting hotter. Expect to see significant breakthroughs and increased momentum in all of these fields over the next 12 months.

• Nanoparticles in medicine Nanoparticles are the subject of fast-moving development efforts in areas like drug delivery, diagnostic imaging and the treatment of cancer. It's a multidisciplinary endeavour that's attracting increased R&D funding from government agencies and industry. See Special report: nanotechnology in medicine and Special report: magnetic nanoparticles.

• Brain mapping Last year, neuroscientists started using fMRI and MEG in combination to probe the exact sequence of our thought processes. This year could see the technique providing insights in fields ranging from social psychology to economics. See Special report: fMRI, MEG probe our thoughts.

• Photodynamic therapy Why isn't PDT as widely employed as it should be? It's a powerful treatment, with researchers all around the world evaluating the technique for different conditions. The task in 2007 is to get this message through to the clinicians treating these conditions. Special report: seeing the light on PDT?.

• Terahertz radiation Will terahertz radiation be a useful new way of killing skin cancers? Scientists hope to find out this year when Europe's most powerful terahertz source comes online in conjunction with a specialized tissue-culture centre. See Terahertz radiation: intensity is everything.

• Plasma technology Think about plasmas and what probably comes to mind is the sort of super-hot fireball found in a nuclear-fusion reactor or the interior of the Sun. Think again, though, because research into the biomedical applications of plasmas has exploded in the last few years. See Plasma technology is hot stuff.

Five start-ups to watch in 2007

They've got innovative ideas and a focus on the end user. Time will tell if these firms also have the right mix of intellectual property, industry partnerships and a management team that knows where it's going in the long term.

• Celleration (Eden Prairie, MN) has developed a novel wound-closure system based on ultrasound and saline solution. Initial clinical data showed that MIST ultrasound therapy reduced the healing time for chronic wounds from an average of 10 weeks (with standard treatment) to an average of just seven. See Ultrasound that won't have you in stitches.

• UK-based Metrasens is commercializing a ferromagnetic detection system that will make MRI facilities safer. Called Ferroguard, the technology is designed to prevent projectile accidents where ferrous objects are attracted at great speed towards the magnet bore. See MRI facilities: the starting point is safety.

• The QEL 2400 system from Neuroptix (Acton, MA) can reveal the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease in a matter of seconds. The company's novel optical technique measures the presence of telltale amyloids in the lens of the eye with a combination of dye treatment and scanning by an infrared laser. See Eye scan shows first sign of Alzheimer's.

• Sweden’s ScandiDos has developed an advanced dosimetry system that improves quality assurance during intensity-modulated radiation therapy. The start-up's Delta4 device is a high-end sensor module that's capable of 3D and 4D dose verification in a single step. See Radiotherapy sensor has extra dimensions.

• Still River Systems (Littleton, MA) reckons that it can transform the economics of proton-beam radiation therapy with the development of a compact, low-cost particle accelerator. See Proton therapy: think smaller, think cheaper.

Five research projects to follow in 2007

These projects all delivered in 2006. Same again in 2007 then.

• X-ray microbeams An international collaboration headed by Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, NY) is pioneering a new approach to X-ray microbeam radiation therapy, an experimental treatment that enables the highly targeted killing of tumours and non-cancerous targeted tissue while leaving surrounding healthy tissue unharmed. The team is talking to industrial partners about the development of key supporting technologies. See X-ray microbeams: hitting the target.

• Imaging of lung function Scientists at Duke University (Durham, NC) have found a way to image gas exchange in the lungs directly. Using a technique called XACT - a variant of functional MRI that detects xenon inhaled by the patient rather than the water molecules in their tissue – the work could revolutionize the treatment of emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung conditions. Clinical trials are imminent. See XACT images track lung function.

• Antiproton irradiation CERN, the world's largest particle-physics laboratory, has played a pivotal role in the first investigation into the biological effects of antiproton irradiation. Researchers working on CERN's antiproton cell experiment have demonstrated that antiprotons are four times as effective as protons at targeted cell damage. Investigations are ongoing and initial results are favourable, yet the researchers admit that clinical applications are still a decade or more away. See Antiprotons are four times as potent.

• Nanotubes and radiation Radiotherapy is pretty good at killing cancer cells, even if the fine detail of how the radiation does its work at the cellular and subcellular level is not yet fully understood. Getting a handle on those radiation-cell interactions is the challenge confronting a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC), who believe that their experiments with carbon nanotubes hold the key to figuring out what's going on – a breakthrough that, if realized, could lead to the development of more-effective cancer therapies. See Nanotubes shed light on cancer therapies.

• "Breathing" collimators Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, UK, have developed an IMRT radiation-delivery technique that can track the movement of a target in 2D. While 1D tracking methods have been demonstrated before, this is the first time that researchers have been able to realize a 2D capability. The new technique uses a modified dynamic multileaf-collimator method in which the leaves are made to "breathe" synchronously. Further refinement of the approach may necessitate partnership with an equipment manufacturer. See Breathing collimators stay on track.

For the editorial team here at medicalphysicsweb, our new year's resolution is simple enough: more of the same. Our core task in 2007 is to build on the solid foundations put down last year as we work to establish this website as the principal hub through which the medical physics community and its related biomedical disciplines forge high-value connections. Take it as read, then, that the site's core competency will remain its "laser focus" on innovation: in-depth analysis and commentary on the fundamental science that makes it possible, the people who make it happen, and the applications that, ultimately, make it worthwhile from a clinical and commercial perspective.