Fiber-optic probes detect the tissue deformation

It is a well-known fact that surgeons are able to differentiate diseased from healthy tissue by touching firmness of a small cancerous lump. Nevertheless, it is now impossible to record such qualitative and subjective tactile data, although biomedical specialists are working under the development of such a device.

Recently, a group of biomedical scientists from Australia has developed the first portable elastographic probe, including an optical fiber sensor that has a connection with a special system which allows demonstrating the tissue deformation resulting from the touch of a surgeon.

The surgeons quite often use the technology of fiber-optic coherence tomography combined with elastographic systems that employ fiber-optic sensors. Thus, they create optical coherence elastography. According to researchers from Australia, their optical-fiber device offers better spatial resolution and tissue-deformation sensitivity than the earlier used imaging techniques such as elastography, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging.

The principle of the optical fiber probe operation is based on the use of the device with fiber sensors fit right onto the gloved finger of a surgeon. Herewith, the fiber probe is most likely to fit into a tiny surgical opening, for example, such as the incision made during breast cancer removal.

Therefore, the researchers created a cylindrical fingertip thimble with an extension similar to a small channel for fixing an optical fiber probe by a 3D printer. This fiber probe is a single-mode fiber spliced to a 270-μm-long graded-index fiber. Finally, these optical fibers operate as a small interferometer.

Also, it should be mentioned that fiber optics is a quite universal material that has a lot of fields of application and numerous benefits that include:

  • easy installation;
  • compact size;
  • detection of extremely small targets;
  • high environmental resistance;
  • safe and stable.

The developed fiber probe is considered to be used by surgeons, herein, they should hold and wear the device perpendicular to the examined tissue surface, so the beam produced by the fiber probe is mutually transverse to the mechanical stresses and strains on the tissue.

The optical probe device has been already tested on silicone tissue, then on ex vivo kangaroo muscle tissue. Moreover, the researchers confirm that it is possible to improve their device before testing on human tissue. For example, the fiber-optic probe can be implemented to a surgical glove for better tactile sensation and use.

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