3D Optical Biopsies Possible with Optical Fiber Technology, Say RMIT Researchers

3D Optical Biopsy
Dr Antony Orth holding an ultra-thin microendoscope used in the study, which revealed the 3D imaging potential of the existing technology (Image credit: RMIT University)

Researchers at RMIT University in Australia have shown that existing optical fiber technology could be used to produce microscopic 3D images of tissue inside the body. Published in Science Advances, the technology could pave the way for minimally invasive 3D optical biopsies.

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In traditional biopsies tissue is harvested and sent off to a lab for analysis, but optical biopsies will enable clinicians to examine living tissue within the body in real-time.

This new procedure uses ultra-thin microendoscopes to look inside the body for diagnosis or during surgery, but normally produces only two-dimensional images, reports RMIT.

This is a crucial first step towards 3D optical biopsies, to improve diagnosis and precision surgery.

The new technology uses a light field imaging approach to produce microscopic images in stereo vision, similar to the 3D movies that you watch wearing 3D glasses, according to lead author Dr Antony Orth, a Research Fellow in the RMIT node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP).

“Stereo vision is the natural format for human vision, where we look at an object from two different viewpoints and process these in our brains to perceive depth,” said Dr Orth.

“We’ve shown it’s possible to do something similar with the thousands of tiny optical fibers in a microendoscope.

“It turns out these optical fibers naturally capture images from multiple perspectives, giving us depth perception at the microscale.

“Our approach can process all those microscopic images and combine the viewpoints to deliver a depth-rendered visualization of the tissue being examined – an image in three dimensions.”

optical fiber bundles
Modal structure in optical fiber bundles captures light field information (Image credit: Marco Capelli, RMIT)

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The researchers measured the angle of the rays coming into the system, and were able to figure out the 3D structure of a microscopic fluorescent sample using just the information in a single image, explains Professor Brant Gibson, Chief Investigator and Deputy Director of the CNBP.

“So that optical fiber bundle acts like a miniaturized version of a light field camera,” he adds.

“The exciting thing is that our approach is fully compatible with the optical fiber bundles that are already in clinical use, so it’s possible that 3D optical biopsies could be a reality sooner rather than later.”

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