Supporting the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic with photonics instrumentation

COVID-19 data from John Hopkins, updated 4/12/2022

Hamamatsu manufactures a wide range of off-the-shelf and custom OEM photonic solutions currently employed in the global effort to detect, monitor, treat and ultimately defeat the COVID-19 global pandemic. From complete slide scanning systems to ultra-sensitive cameras to single point detectors, we are committed to providing the medical and life sciences communities with reliable, high quality photonic instrumentation, and we are profoundly aware of our obligation to participate in the amazing worldwide collaboration battling this devastating disease. We are currently prioritizing our response to help our partners in research and in instrumentation development and ultimately frontline workers fight the pandemic with increased testing, diagnostics and research tools. We recognize the urgent needs in this global collaboration and have greatly ramped up our manufacturing to support specific photonic applications that are making a difference including real-time PCR, antibody testing, X-ray and CT imaging, digital pathology and broader research applications like genotyping and next generation sequencing.

COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests

COVID-19 Molecular Diagnostic Tests

A variety of photonics technologies are employed to diagnose whether or not patients have the coronavirus. Chief among these is reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), but other technologies including immunochromatographic readers and even next generation sequencing (NGS) have emerged to provide frontline workers and laboratories with the higher throughput and rapid detection that is desperately needed worldwide. Our detectors, cameras, and spectrometers are used in many of these instruments to detect fluorescent or colorimetric signals emitted by the molecular components of the virus. Surface-enhanced Raman spectrometer (SERS) modules are also being investigated as tools to detect discrete characteristics of the components that make up viruses.

Serology/Antibody (Ab) tests

Serology/Antibody (Ab) tests

Understanding the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is critical to vaccine development, and research into how different people are affected by COVID-19 can determine treatment strategies for those infected. Simple lateral flow strips can be used with fluorescent and colorimetric readers to determine the presence of antibodies. Additionally, complex whole blood immunoassay instruments employ highly sensitive photomultipliers (e.g., PMTs) for chemiluminescent assays. Advancements in spectrometer technology are also paving the way for the next generation of immunoassay instruments.

X-ray diagnostics

x-ray diagnostics

Hamamatsu makes high performance digital flat-panel X-ray sensors and works with a wide range of OEM partners to incorporate these products into FDA-approved medical diagnostic devices such as static radiographic and dynamic fluoroscopic and cone beam CT scanners. From these partnerships we have learned symptoms like inflammation of the lungs' endothelial cells, clotting[1] and secondary infections like pneumonia[2] can be diagnosed and imaged with flat-panel digital X-ray detectors in combination with X-ray sources for static and CT scanners. In addition, scintillators are often used to detect the X-ray photons and convert the signal to visible light.

[1] Matacic, C. Blood vessel attack could trigger coronavirus’ fatal ‘second phase’. Science June 2, 2020 doi:10.1126/science.abd1296

[2] Yang W, Sirajuddin A, Zhang X, et al. The role of imaging in 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 15]. Eur Radiol. 2020;1-9. doi:10.1007/s00330-020-06827-4

Research – vaccine, therapeutic and population studies


Broader research into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, how it differs in genetic structure around the world, our immune response and treatment strategies when infected employ a variety of photonic instruments. Examples of research and screening instrumentation include next gen sequencers (NGS) and microarrays for population studies and genotyping, flow cytometers for vaccine development and immune research, digital pathology and microscopes for biopsy and autopsy analysis of tissue, and high throughput drug discovery instruments for therapeutics. Additional research is being done to develop SERS assays and portable SERS techniques for the early identification of viruses, such as Influenza A virus [1][2].

Bad news wrapped in protein

View webinar: Supporting the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic with photonics instrumentation

In this interview with Laser Focus World, James Butler from Hamamatsu discusses efforts in relation to specific photonic applications that are making a difference, including real-time PCR, antibody testing, X-ray and CT imaging, digital pathology, and broader research applications such as genotyping and next generation sequencing.

From small to large, these underlying components allow us to detect, diagnose and study coronavirus


Photonic systems and components for PCR





Photonic components for immunoassay and antibody (Ab) tests





Photonic components for X-ray systems

Photonic systems and components for research