Hertfordshire University researchers have developed a flexible endoscope capable of acquiring 3D images inside the patient that could improve the precision of keyhole surgery.
The device could be used to help improve the outcome of operations performed not only directly by human surgeons but also by robots in telemedicine applications. The team behind the invention, led by Salvatore Livatino, says there is clear evidence indicating that 3D visualisation would give doctors better awareness of the space in which they are operating. Better perception of depth, for example, would lead to more accurate navigation and fewer unwanted collisions with internal organs.
“The flexible endoscope needs to be driven inside the body and needs to be driven very carefully to minimise collisions,” Livatino explained.
“The advantage of 3D visualisation is higher accuracy, so the surgeon can be much more precise, which is very relevant when you make your intervention when you operate.”
The prototype device, which has so far been only used in an experimental setting on a mannequin, is fitted with two tiny cameras on one end of a flexible tube to provide stereo imagery as well as the needed manoeuvrability. It is also equipped with a miniature LED light to provide illumination inside the body.
“Creating such an endoscope is quite challenging because you need to have two cameras,” said Livatino. “Today we only have one camera on flexible endoscopes and two cameras are obviously bigger than one. Moreover, the cameras need to be aligned. We are working with 3mm cameras and it is quite difficult to align them properly.”
The university is currently looking for commercial partners who would help bring the invention from the lab to actual operating theatres. They are also experimenting with haptic feedback systems that would allow the surgeon to immediately feel the surroundings of the endoscope. In the future, augmented reality applications could be added in the form of graphics to help especially young surgeons in training.
“We use different 3D displays because there are huge differences between those devices,” said Livatino. This kind of technology is dependent on the size of the display, so we are trying to assess the advantages and we work with different displays.”