This tiny camera on a needle could enable safer brain surgeries


biopsy needle

[Photo courtesy University of Adelaide]

A team of researchers at the Center for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide in Australia have developed a brain biopsy needle with a tiny camera attached to the end to make brain surgery safer.

When performing surgery on a brain tumor, regular biopsy needles usually pose the risk of hitting a blood vessel, killing the patient.

The optical imaging probe is encased within a brain biopsy needle. It is the size of a human hair and can show surgeons blood vessels before the needle can damage them, avoiding bleeds that can be potentially fatal.

It has a tiny fiber-optic camera that is attached to a flashlight and shines infrared light while inserting the biopsy needle. A computer analyzes the video coming from the camera and warns surgeons if there is a vessel in the way.

The “smart needle” was used in a pilot trial with 12 patients who were having neurosurgery at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia. Researchers hope that the optical imaging probe will be ready for formal clinical trials by 2018. The team hopes that the “smart needle” will be manufactured in Australia as they speak with international manufacturers.

Tiny cameras are becoming more common in the medical device world. Last year, researchers developed a lens system that was no bigger than a grain of salt and could fit inside a syringe. It was able to stream video from inside arteries while simultaneously removing plaque. MIT scientists developed an optical sensor that could be embedded into a needle tip that could give anesthesiologists immediate feedback on surrounding tissues to make sure they hit the right spots.

The University of Adelaide research was funded by the South Australia Government Department of State Development through a Premier’s Research and Industry Fund grant.

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