Certain health conditions require doctors to be able to observe tissues and organs in order to tell what’s wrong. The problem is that getting scopes into the body’s nooks and crannies without causing damage to the delicate surrounding tissues has, until now, been impossible.
A team of researchers has created a 3D-printed device that is set to make such diagnostic imaging challenges a thing of the past. The world’s smallest imaging probe features an optical fiber about as thick as a single human hair. A tiny lens is mounted to the end of it and the whole device is wrapped in a sheath to help it to slide into the smallest of capillaries.
Jiawen Li, one of the scientists who spearheaded this work explained just what the ultrathin endoscope could pick up in the body: “A major factor in heart disease is the plaques, made up of fats, cholesterol and other substances that build up in the vessel walls.”
“Miniaturized endoscopes, which act like tiny cameras, allow doctors to see how these plaques form and explore new ways to treat them.”
Besides being small, the new device is also mighty, with resolution levels and imaging depth-of-field that puts existing endoscopes to shame. The secret to its unprecedented image clarity lies in the 3D printing manufacturing process, which prints complex micro-optic features directly onto the optical fiber. Simon Thiele from the University of Stuttgart, the creator of these lenses said, “Until now, we couldn’t make high-quality endoscopes this small. Using 3D micro-printing, we are able to print complicated lenses that are too small to see with the naked eye.”
In the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease, which means advanced diagnostic technologies like these have the potential to save thousands of lives a year.