Optical imaging for diagnostics

The evolution of optical technologies in the context of diagnostic medical imaging has revolutionized, over the past two decades, the way we understand, detect and treat disease. By using labelled tags (which can be tailored to carry a wide range of molecular motifs) and advanced technologies that enable the detection of probe emissions with high sensitivity and specificity, bench researchers and clinicians have been able to diagnose disease by detecting, for example, cancer biomarkers, cell metabolic state and atherosclerotic lesions.

Mostly owing to ease of use and wide applicability range, optical imaging technologies are currently able to provide molecular-grade information, even in operating theatres. These features align well with the drive for personalized health care, envisaged for diagnosing patient subpopulations with increased precision.

This Collection brings together recent efforts in optical diagnostic imaging, and highlights the path bringing the development of optical imaging technologies towards their eventual impact in the clinic. The curated set of research Articles, Reviews, Perspectives and Comments bridge molecular imaging, protein engineering, nanoparticle design and materials science to deliver optical-imaging applications in clinical diagnostics.

The material of which selected content is free to access until February 10th 2017  has been published within the last two years in Nature Biomedical Engineering, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Chemical Biology, Nature Communications, Nature Materials, Nature Medicine, Nature Methods, Nature Photonics, Nature ProtocolsNature Reviews Cardiology, Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology and Nature Reviews Urology.


Design of banner and header-image: Laura Marshall / Nature Research


A renally cleared, water-soluble dye emitting in the near-infrared-imaging (NIR)-II window outperforms a clinically approved NIR-I dye in the in vivo imaging of tumours and their nearby blood and lymphatic vasculatures.

Article | | Nature Materials

Current endoscopes are limited to detection or treatment of colon cancers and growths, or resolution is too low for clinical application. Here the authors present a multimodal endoscope with theranostic nanoparticles that integrates fluorescence-based mapping, electrical impedance, pH and temperature monitoring, RF ablation and localized phototherapy or chemotherapy.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Reviews & Comments

A new report has demonstrated the combined use of optical coherence tomography and molecular imaging within human coronary arteries. This combination provides a unique opportunity to look at plaque from a view not previously possible, opening the field for greater understanding of plaque biology in research and clinical practice.

News & Views | | Nature Reviews Cardiology

The use of photonics technology is bringing new capabilities and insights to cardiovascular medicine. Intracoronary imaging and sensing, laser ablation and optical pacing are just some of the functions being explored to help diagnose and treat conditions of the heart and arteries.

Commentary | | Nature Photonics

Several key papers published in 2015 highlight important emerging trends in endoscopic imaging that promise to improve patient diagnosis and guidance of therapy. These studies reflect the future role for 'smart' contrast agents and fluorescence endoscopes to provide a molecular basis for disease detection, identify precancerous lesions and determine optimal choice of therapy.

Year in Review | | Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Damage to the cavernous nerves during radical prostatectomy often explains the variable rates of postoperative sexual potency in men who have undergone this procedure. Thus, the implementation of nerve-sparing procedures might enable improvements in this area. In this Review, the authors describe current methods for identifying cavernous nerves during surgery, and novel approaches that have the potential to improve outcomes.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Urology

A range of established and emerging invasive and noninvasive imaging modalities can be used to evaluate various parameters of coronary atherosclerosis, including functional severity, plaque burden, and high-risk characteristics. In this Review, Dweck et al. assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of these techniques, how they might be complementary when used in combination, and barriers that exist to their translation into clinical practice.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Cardiology

Effective diagnostic imaging can improve prognosis for patients with pancreatic diseases such as pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and diabetes mellitus, which benefit from early treatment. Here, Kelly and colleagues review current and future technologies for imaging pancreatic disease, and discuss the development of new contrast agents and molecular imaging targets.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology