IM this article to a friend!

January 21, 2004

Super-Thin fibre optic heralds body probes breakthrough

From: Ananova - Jan 21, 2004

A super-thin endoscope that can boldly go where no probe has gone before could revolutionise medical examinations.

The device is made from a single optical fibre just half a millimetre wide. It could allow doctors to peer inside the inner ear, and explore narrow blood vessels.

The endoscope was developed by biomedical engineers in Sydney, Australia - primarily to help the fitting of cochlear implants.

The implants, which can restore hearing to deaf patients, cannot always be fitted because of obstructions in the inner ear. But the new device could enable doctors to see these obstructions and guide the implant round them.

Its special fibre has microscopic holes running through it, like lettering in a stick of seaside rock.

New Scientist magazine reports: "Light is channeled down each hole, only emerging when it reaches the end of the fibre. Because the light entering each hole remains separate from light in all the other holes, the pattern of light leaving the fibre at the other end creates a discernible image."

Team leader Martijn van Eijkelenborg, from the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, made the endoscope by drilling 112 holes into an eight centimetre-thick plastic rod and then stretching it until the fibre was just half a millimetre wide.

The image it produced was "pretty crude", but the researchers hope to boost the resolution by creating fibres with up to 1,000 holes before beginning full-scale development of the instrument.

Copyright © 2004 Ananova Ltd