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New camera looks through the body

New camera looks through the body

A new camera is able to see through the body.

A team from Edinburgh University and Heriot-Watt University has designed the camera to help doctors track medical tools such as endoscopes that are used to investigate a range of internal conditions.

The camera is able to detect sources of light inside the body, such as the illuminated tip of the endoscope’s long flexible tube.

Before now, it has been nearly impossible to get a clear picture of where an endoscope is situated within the human body, without using X-rays, or other expensive methods. This is because light from the endoscope can pass through the body, but it usually scatters or bounces off tissues and organs rather than travelling straight through.

The new camera employs a different technique. It takes advantage of advanced technology that can detect individual particles of light, called photons. The team have integrated thousands of single photon detectors onto a silicon chip, similar to that found in a digital camera.

The technology is so sensitive that it can detect the tiny traces of light that pass through the body’s tissue from the light of the endoscope. It can also record the time taken for light to pass through the body, allowing the device to also detect the scattered light. By taking into account both the scattered light and the light that travels straight to the camera, the device is able to work out exactly where the endoscope is located in the body.

The new camera can be used at the patient’s bedside.

The project is part of the Proteus Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, which is developing a range of revolutionary new technologies for diagnosing and treating lung diseases. Proteus is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Kev Dhaliwal, Professor of Molecular Imaging and Healthcare Technology, University of Edinburgh and Project Lead, Proteus, said: “The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease.”

Dr Michael Tanner of Heriot-Watt University added: “My favourite element of this work was the ability to work with clinicians to understand a practical healthcare challenge, then tailor advanced technologies and principles that would not normally make it out of a physics lab to solve real problems. I hope we can continue this interdisciplinary approach to make a real difference in healthcare technology.”


Images from a new camera that can detect tiny traces of light through the body’s tissues. Here, the camera is detecting light emitted from a medical device known as an optical endomicroscope whilst in use in sheep lungs. Image on left shows light emitted from the tip of the endomicroscope, revealing its precise location in the lungs. Right image shows the picture that would be obtained using a conventional camera, with light scattered through the structures of the lung.