Stanford University engineers have developed a high-resolution endoscope that is as thin as human hair, but has a resolution four-times stronger than previous endoscopes of a similar design.
According to an article published in the journal Optics Express, the prototype of the device can resolve objects that are about 2.5 microns in size. Today's high-resolution endoscopes can resolve objects to about 10 microns in size. A micron is one-one thousandth of a millimeter.
The endoscope was developed by a team led by Joseph Kahn, a professor of electrical engineering at the university. According to a Stanford News Service article, Kahn is know for his work on fiber-optic communications, and was challenged by a fellow electrical engineer, who, Kahn explained, "wanted to know if it would be possible to send light through a single hair-thin fiber, form a bright spot inside the body and scan it to record images of living tissue."
In Kahn's micro-endoscope, a spatial light modulator is used to send random light patterns through the fiber into the body into order to illuminate the object of interest. The light reflecting off that object is sent back through the fiber into a computer, which, through the use of a special adaptive algorithm, enabled the engineers to reconstruct an image.
According to the engineers, this kind of single-fiber micro-endoscope could be the ultimate minimally invasive imaging system, with potential uses ranging from analyzing neuronal cellular biology in brain tissue to detecting various cancers at an early stage.