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With purposeful, high-technology inventions flooding the market, it comes as no surprise that hospitals and clinics around the world are resorting to and beginning to implement ingenious devices to assist doctors, ultimately for the welfare of patients. One such product is the medical camera.

Meant to allow healthcare professionals to better view certain anatomical regions and unreachable parts of the body during examinations or medical procedures, researchers at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Proteus Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, have developed a prototype of a camera. This, in complement with the endoscope, will be detect light sources beneath about 20 cm (8 inches) of cells and tissues - a vast improvement from just the traditional method.

Why Do We Need a Medical Camera?

Endoscopes are highly conducive tools that come attached with lights, sensors and cameras to explore the deep, dark cavities of the body. They are indeed invaluable to doctors and nurses for a good understanding of the goings-on in vivo. But these probes are accurate only up to a certain degree; in the case of the endomicroscope, to know the direction it faces inside the body for proper guidance and navigation is a challenge and requires the support of imaging such as MRIs or X-ray radiography. What occurs here is the light from the thin tube bounces off tissues and organs, not letting the photons to pass through.

The Advanced New Camera

As an answer to the optical and sensitivity problems involved in the endoscope, the team created a novel camera while studying the treatment of lung diseases.

Similar to the working of a digital camera, thousands of photon detectors were incorporated onto a silicon chip that can recognize even faintest amount of light in the body thus revealing better images. An interesting feature of the medical device is its ability to record the time taken for light to pass through the body, therefore monitoring aspects of scattered light too, the’ ballistic and snake’ photons, in a method called ballistic imaging. This, when coupled with the fiber optical endomicroscope gives the doctor its precise location and position. As part of the study titled, ‘Ballistic and Snake Photon Imaging for Locating Optical Endomicroscopy Fibres’, the investigators were able to use this technique through the width of the entire human torso proving its practicality during procedures.

Images from a new camera that can detect tiny traces of light through the body’s tissues. Here, the camera is detecting light emitted from a medical device known as an optical endomicroscope whilst in use in sheep lungs. Image on left shows light emitted from the tip of the endomicroscope, revealing its precise location in the lungs. Right image shows the picture that would be obtained using a conventional camera, with light scattered through the structures of the lung. (University of Edinburgh)

Images from a new camera that can detect tiny traces of light through the body’s tissues. Here, the camera is detecting light emitted from a medical device known as an optical endomicroscope whilst in use in sheep lungs. Image on left shows light emitted from the tip of the endomicroscope, revealing its precise location in the lungs. Right image shows the picture that would be obtained using a conventional camera, with light scattered through the structures of the lung. (University of Edinburgh)

Prof. Kev Dhaliwal, leader of project Proteus, mentioned that this advancement is not only crucial in medical technology and minimally invasive procedures, but it also has potential applications in several different areas of science and research. Even Dr. Micheal Tanner of the Heriot-Watt University had a promising few words regarding this initiative; he said: “My favourite element of this work was the ability to work with clinicians to understand a practical healthcare challenge, then tailor advanced technologies and principles that would not normally make it out of a physics lab to solve real problems. I hope we can continue this interdisciplinary approach to make a real difference in healthcare technology”.

With the advent of this medical camera, although still in a nascent stage, we indeed hope to overcome challenges such as vision and resolution currently faced by medical experts when accessing remote areas of the body during clinical treatments and diagnostics.

Top image: Camera developed by scientist (University of Edinburgh)

References:

Tanner, M. G. et al. (2017), ‘Ballistic and snake photon imaging for locating optical endomicroscopy fibres’, Biomedical Optics Express, 8, Pp 4077-4095

The University of Edinburgh (2017), http://www.ed.ac.uk/medicine-vet-medicine/news-events/latest-news/medical-camera-sees-through-the-body, (accessed 15 Sept 2017)

Dockrill, P. (2017), Science Alert, https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-have-developed-a-camera-that-can-see-through-the-human-body, (accessed 15 Sept 2017)

Trimble, M. (2017), US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/healthcare-of-tomorrow/articles/2017-09-05/scientists-develop-camera-that-can-see-through-the-human-body, (accessed 19 Sept 2017)

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Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the healthcare, medical and scientific domains; areas of specialization include scientific content creation, medical editing, blogging in science and biotechnology, with a fair knowledge in grant writing and scientific journalism. Also, she is passionate about travel blogging, practicing yoga, volunteering in non-profits for education. Read More

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