Light will soon play an important role in minimally invasive surgery (keyhole operations), in which medical instruments are inserted through an opening that is as small as possible. It is used to take a biopsy with a needle, for example. In this procedure, tissue is collected in order to determine whether a person has cancer.
“It is important to take tissue that is suspected of being a tumour. Last-minute adjustments are sometimes necessary. Needles with optical fibres and sensors make this possible”, explains Prof. Jenny Dankelman, head of the department of Biomedical Engineering (3mE). The optical fibres are extremely thin. The needle has a diameter of two millimetres. The fibres have a diameter of two tenths of a millimetre, resting in grooves that have been etched into the needle. The shape of the needle is determined with sensors in these fibres.
The optical fibres are suited for use in MRI scanners. “Because of the magnetic field, metals cause problems in a scanner, but optical fibres do not. Therefore optical sensors do not cause interference in the MRI image”, explains Kirsten Henken.
The researchers are already thinking one step further. They are trying to develop steerable optical fibres that can characterise tissue, in addition to treating it. “One puncture would then suffice for both the diagnosis and the treatment. The fibre-containing instrument uses light to determine the type of tissue. If it is suspicious, we would want to heat it, thus destroying the unhealthy cells”, Dr John van den Dobbelsteen tells us.
This is something for the future, however, as the technology must undergo further testing and development in the coming years.