Medical scientists from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University have developed a camera which can see through human tissue. The camera could eliminate the need for expensive scans such as X-rays to track the progress of medical instruments inside the body. Highly photosensitive, the device is able to detect a single photon, which could be projected from the tip of a medical intstrument.
Light beams from endoscopes scatter or bounce off of tissues, rather than passing through them, which is a difficulty for practitioners when assessing the progress of instruments in the body. Preliminary tests in ‘clinically relevant’ conditions have shown that the camera can track a light source though around 20cm of tissue, much more accurately than conventional imaging.
In a statement, the University of Edinburgh College of Medical & Veterinary Medicine said: “Experts have integrated thousands of single photon detectors onto a silicon chip, similar to that found in a digital camera. By taking into account both the scattered light and the light that travels straight to the camera, the device is able to work out exactly where the endoscope is located in the body. Researchers have developed the new camera so that it can be used at the patient’s bedside.”
The project has been developed alongside Heriot-Watt University, as part of the Proteus Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, which is aimed at developing a range of new technologies for the treatment of lung disease.
Professor Kev Dhaliwal, Professor of Molecular Imaging and Healthcare Technology at the University of Edinburgh, underscored the potential benefits of this development: “The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease.”
Dr. Michael Tanner of Heriot-Watt University 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.”