Imaging inside the cochlea soon a reality with hair-width scanner


medical imaging

© Simon Thiele and Jiawen Li University of Adelaide

A newly-developed ultrathin 3D-printed optical endoscope is bringing miniaturised probing to the level of providing trauma-free high-resolution imaging from within delicate narrow body parts such as the cochlea.

Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians from the University of Adelaide, Australia, and the University of Stuttgart, Germany, the device—which was used to scan inside the blood vessels of mice—comprises a 3D-printed lens on the end of an optical fibre with the thickness of a human hair.

“The entire endoscope, with a protective plastic casing, is less than half a millimetre across,” said Dr Simon Thiele, Group Leader, Optical Design and Simulation at the University of Stuttgart, who was responsible for fabricating the tiny lens. “Until now, we couldn’t make high quality endoscopes this small,” he added.

To evaluate the performance of the ultrathin probe for scanning tissue samples, the team successfully imaged a freshly excised human carotid artery.

A "plethora of functionalities" transcending those of conventional probe fabrication methods is discussed by the researchers, including intravascular imaging of plaques and aneurysms to guide diagnosis and treatments, better access in patients with abnormally narrow vessels, and the future possibility of carrying out multiphoton imaging inside small luminal organs, allowing for subcellular resolution and molecular specificity deep inside the body. The cochlea, part of the inner ear, is one such destination described by the researchers as now "within reach".

The research paper on the ultrathin monolithic 3D printed optical coherence tomography endoscopy for preclinical and clinical use was published in the journal, Light Science and Applications.

Source: University of Adelaide