Over the past few decades, we have seen significant advances in medical visualization technologies with the emergence and widespread use of sophisticated techniques such as magnetic resonant imaging (MRI) and X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning). These advances have made it possible for surgeons to non-invasively visualize the internal structure of the human body in high resolution 3D, enabling a range of disease identification, screening, and general medical applications.
In addition to these advanced visualization approaches, conventional optical visualization methods have also been advancing. One of the most interesting examples of this is surgical endoscopy. The benefits of minimally invasive surgery are well documented with less tissue injury and scarring, quicker recovery time, and shorter hospitals stays—the end result being a more successful surgery. The classic 2D endoscope is a key tool in this process, enabling the surgeon to visualize the surgical site through an optical scope, rather than direct viewing through an open wound.
Rather surprisingly, the first use of optical endoscopes for internal visualization of the human body was reported almost 200 years ago, although it wasn’t until the development of miniature electric light bulbs in the early 20th century that endoscopes started to receive more widespread use. More recently, the development of digital imaging and display technologies have driven much of the development of modern endoscope instruments.
Many of these advances have been driven by activities in the consumer electronics and gaming worlds, a trend we see continuing. Consumer applications have developed exponentially in response to the demand for increasingly sophisticated lighting, graphics, and visual effects, all at a lower price point. As a result, the exotic semiconductor and imaging technologies emerging from research labs five to ten years ago are now widely available for use within the surgical arena. Some notable examples include:
- The development of the pill cam—a small, fully encapsulated camera that passes through the digestive tract
- Chip-on-tip devices where the optical image is encoded into an electrical video signal directly at the distal end of the endoscope inside the patient
- LED surgical lighting using solid state illumination
- 3D endoscope products
These developments enable not only enhanced direct visualization of the surgical site, but also provide better early stage diagnostic opportunities, resulting in a larger range of tools at the surgeon’s disposal and, in turn, an overall improvement in diagnosing and treating a disease.
Dr. Euan Morrison is the head of advanced optical & lighting technologies at Sagentia, a technology and product development company.