Patience? – Viacheslav Artyushenko’s flight to Amsterdam is leaving in in an hour and a half. But he remains completely calm and guides visitors through the labs and manufacturing halls of his company, the art photonics GmbH, which are located in a neat, new building in Rudower Chaussee 46. He is travelling to Amsterdam for a very important reason. The highly specialized optical fibres produced by art photonics are at the foundation a development, which will make it significantly easier for surgeons to differentiate malignant tumors from healthy tissue. There are optical differences between a quickly proliferating cancer and the body’s own tissue, which are not visible to the human eye. The Adlershof-based company, however, makes these differences visible using the undetectable wave lengths of optical fibres produced by. In the near future, it is quite possible that surgeons will pinch needle-type sensors into the tissue and receive instant feedback on whether the tissue is healthy or malignant. The Adlershof-produced specialized optical fibres are the foundation for this development.
“We are not active in the telecommunications market or other mass markets for optical fibres, but in areas that require customised solutions,” explains Artyushenko. His company develops and manufactures fibres which can, for example, transmit light from carbon dioxide, solid-state, or diode lasers, enable spectroscopic analyses across long-distances in reactors or similar facilities, or are applied in pyrometry. The spectrum ranges from ultra-violet wave lengths of about 180 nanometres to the deep infrared part of the spectrum with wavelengths of 18 micrometres. In the manufacturing hall, the fibres are tailored to the specific customers’ requirements. These high-quality optical fibres are sometimes made of quartz glass, or sometimes polycrystallines, some are metal-coated while the coatings for the mid-range infrared are based on chalcogenide glass. The team from Adlershof also bundles different fibres in order to reach a maximum of possible wavelength spectrum for spectroscopic analyses.
The fibres bear a resemblance to fishing lines or fine copper wire and contain a lot of know-how. Artyushenko sees his company as a global player in the spectral range between 2 and 16 µm. He calls the polycrystalline fibre technology, extruded by art photonics from three machines, his “baby”. He has been involved with these fibres since working on his diploma thesis at the Academy of the Sciences of the former Soviet Union. After 1990, he was one of the founders of the Russian-American-German joint venture. Seven years later he decided to found another company in Adlershof. “Berlin is my second home. Long before the Berlin Wall opened, we worked together with the laser medical centre of the Benjamin-Franklin-Clinic in Berlin-Steglitz,” he tells us.
Artyushenko always thinks and acts on an international scale. His know-how is in high demand. His company is currently going forward with a project in cooperation with the world’s largest laser producer to develop fibre-optical products for application in laser medicine. The process is helped along by the company’s long experience in producing thousands of types of optical fibres for diode lasers. Thanks to the bundling of fibres, these are able transmit several kilowatts worth of power.
In the field of spectroscopy, the Adlershof-based company works together with international heavyweights such as Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. and equips their diverse range of spectroscopy solutions with custom-made optical fibres for near-infrared (NIR), fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), Raman spectroscopy and UV-visible spectroscopy. They have to be custom-made because those fibres for application in, for example, petrochemistry or in large reactors, need to be several hundred metres or even kilometres long. The optical cables enable a direct, flexible connection between stationary spectrometers and decentralized processes – and facilitate permanent process control. They transmit the light into the process and back to the spectroscopic analysis.
What has been tried and tested in chemical and nuclear plants and pharmaceuticals production is now on its way into the human body. The expertise of all 30 members of the team is needed to establish a broad scientific base for the highly precise differentiation of tumors and healthy tissue. Different types of tissue and tumors require one of the four different analysis procedures, which operate in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. “The systems are so compact that they will make instant analysis possible directly in the operating room in the near future,” says Artyushenko. His team is currently building a data base for tumor types, which will enable special clinics to receive instant analyses. When in doubt, surgeons can load their data into a cloud and consult experts all over the world.
Artyushenko has already planned the next step: “Once we have refined our analysis, we could soon start using fully tunable light sources instead of spectrometers and detect tumors even quicker and cheaper with even more compact equipment.” This would mean a great step forward. An estimated two million cancer patients die needlessly every year – because surgeons depend on their limited human eye and remove too much or too little tissue. Artyushenko is convinced that this can be changed by expanding what we can see with photonics.