OSA Past President Thomas M. Baer Testifies on Capitol Hill


Lyndsay Meyer
The Optical Society

OSA Past President Thomas M. Baer Testifies on Capitol Hill

House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation examines ways to serve the biomedical community

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24—Testifying on Capitol Hill today, Optical Society (OSA) Past President Thomas M. Baer called for greater involvement by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in supporting the healthcare industry through developing standards and expanding its own ongoing research efforts in bioscience and healthcare.  Baer testified today before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation on ways in which NIST could better serve the needs of the biomedical community. The hearing, How Can NIST Better Serve the Needs of the Biomedical Research Community in the 21st Century?, is one in a series designed to look at potentially restructuring science and technology agencies for the purposes of when the Committee reauthorizes the America COMPETES Act. 

Specifically, the subcommittee is examining how biomedical research at NIST could be structured to achieve goals, such as increasing NIST’s technical expertise and outreach efforts through collaborations with academic institutions, private industry and nonprofits.  Additionally, they are looking at ways to develop mechanisms that allow for NIST to obtain effective and targeted input and feedback from industry, academia and nonprofits.

“Translating the tremendous advances in quantitative biology instrumentation into effective diagnostic tests will require developing standard reference materials, reproducible consensus protocols, and understanding the basic measurement science underlying these new quantitative biomedical instruments,” Baer stated in his testimony today.  “Much of this work has yet to be done and lack of this standards framework is impeding the translation of these new technologies into medical practice, affecting the lives of many critically ill U.S. citizens who could benefit from accelerated introduction of these breakthrough technologies.  NIST can play a pivotal role in accelerating deployment of these remarkable new instruments and procedures.”

Baer went on to describe four ways in which NIST could provide the greatest service to the biomedical community, which include:

  1. Diagnostic medicine
    • In particular, developing standards, consistent protocols, and advancing measurement science in applying quantitative molecular analysis technology to diagnostic tests
    • Supporting the application of the newest generation of quantitative imaging instruments (e.g. CT, MRI, ultrasound)
  2. Working with the drug development industry to accelerate the drug development process
    • Improving understanding of the technology needed to perform the measurements necessary to provide accurate assessment of the safety and efficacy of new drugs
  3. Working with universities and private industry to development methods for new classes of therapy enabled by advances in stem cell science, with applications in diseases such as diabetes and organ replacement
  4. Providing a sound basis for measurement science in the area of neuroscience and neuromedicine, with applications in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease

Today’s hearing is a follow-up to the hearing held Sept. 24, 2009 titled: The Need for Measurement Standards to Facilitate Research and Development of Biologic Drugs. During the September 2009 hearing the Committee examined the need to develop measurements, reference materials, reference standards, standard processes, and validation procedures to improve the research, development and regulatory approval of biologics.  Industry experts and the FDA expressed that there is a need for NIST to perform basic measurement science research to support the growth of the biologics industry.

Baer is the executive director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center and served as OSA President in 2009.  His involvement with NIST includes his current position as a member of the NIST Visiting Committee for Advanced Technology, and a previous six-year term on the National Research Council review panels for both the Physics and Chemical Science and Technology Laboratories.  Throughout his extensive career in the fields of lasers and optics and photonics, Baer has co-authored numerous scientific publications in the areas of atomic physics, quantum electronics, laser applications and biotechnology.

Also testifying in today’s hearing were Sharon F. Terry, president and CEO of Genetic Alliance and Daniel Sullivan, professor and vice chair for research in radiology at Duke University Medical Center and science advisor to the Radiologic Society of North America.  For more information on the hearing, including full testimonies, visit the Science and Technology Committee’s Web site.

About OSA
Uniting more than 106,000 professionals from 134 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit www.osa.org.