A University of Florida engineering researcher has taken the use of traditional endoscopes to a new level. Usually endoscopes provide healthcare experts with the ability to look inside patients' bodies.
Currently, doctors insert camera-equipped endoscopes into patients to hunt visible abnormalities, such as tumours, in the gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.
Now, Huikai Xie, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working on replacing the cameras with scanners that 'see' beneath the surface of tissues - revealing abnormal groups of cells or growth patterns before cancerous growths are big enough to be visible.
"Right now, endoscopes just take pictures of the surface tissue. So, if you see some injury, or abnormality, on the surface, that's good. But most of the time, particularly with cancer, the early stages of disease are not so obvious. The technology we are developing is basically to see under the surface, under the epithelial layer," Xie said.
Experiments with Xie's scanning 'micro-endoscopes' on animal tissue have been promising, although his devices have yet to be tested in people.
The pencil-sized or smaller-sized endoscopes could one day allow physicians to detect tumours at earlier stages and remove tumours more precisely, increasing patients' chances of survival and improving patients' quality of life.