An interdisciplinary team is developing a microscopic device that can help patients in intensive care units

Microscopic probe set to help premature babies

A microscopic probe using the latest fibre optic technology is being developed to help doctors monitor lung infections.

Patients attached to artificial ventilation machines in intensive care units are extremely prone to developing severe lung complications. The most vulnerable to these are prematurely born children. The team of researchers believes that their efforts could in the future help doctors to save more lives by providing timely and accurate warning that infection is building up. "Our Fibre-based Optical Sensing and Imaging Platform will give doctors the ability to rapidly diagnose patients and inform them about the best drugs for patients", says Professor Mark Bradley, from Edinburgh University's school of chemistry. "It will monitor a patient's condition in real time, without the need for cumbersome equipment or ionising radiation."

The project, backed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, has received funding of £11,2m to cover a five-year development period.

The microscopic probe designed to be passed into the lungs and blood vessels will be able to recognise signs of infections, inflammation and scarring. It will measuring oxygen, acidity and glucose in the patients' blood and lungs and deliver tiny amounts of chemical compounds that will highlight specific bacteria and viruses that have the potential to damage the lung.

Experts say that real-time access to such information can revolutionise respiratory medicine by dramatically improving the ability to accurately diagnose, monitor and treat lung disease. The team believes that the device can also be utilised for diagnosis of acute urinary, gastrointestinal and reproductive tract problems.

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