Tiny probe dives deep inside human body to capture key patient information

Scientists have developed a tiny fibre-optic probe that can measure temperature and see deep inside the human body, which could help to prevent drug-induced overheating of the brain and potentially refine thermal treatment for cancers.

“With an outer diameter of only 130 microns, the probe is as thin as a single strand of human hair,” said University of Adelaide researcher Dr Jiawen Li.

“This means it can be delivered deep inside the body in a minimally invasive way. It also allows us to see and record physiological data in real time that we weren’t able to access before.”

The miniaturised imaging and sensing probe has been developed to help study drug-induced hyperthermia.

“Using some drugs such as ecstasy can make certain brain regions overheat and then become damaged,” Li said.

“Using the probe’s imaging function during experiments, our medical collaborators would be able to see deep inside the brain of a living organism and guide the placement of the probe to the right brain region.”

“Then, they can use the probe’s built-in thermometer to monitor any changes to the local temperature of that region.”

This will allow researchers to better understand how hyperthermia develops, test new medical treatments and investigate the toxicology impacts of drug-taking.

The probe also has potential to provide insights into other diseases and treatments in other parts of the body, such as optimising thermal treatment of cancers.

While the first generation of the probe can both take images and measure temperature, Li hopes future generations will take other measurements as well, such as pH values, oxygen saturation and accumulation of fat in arteries.

Last month, a team demonstrated tiny, implantable sensors that could be used to give doctors an indication about internal health problems of patients before they might be aware of them. 

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