The needle is cost effective and allows doctors to see targeted tissue that’s normally difficult to spot during procedures. If you have trypanophonia you may want to look away. (Photo via Nature)


No one ever looks forward to having surgery, but if it has to be done, minimally invasive procedures are more appealing. Usually, they leave less scar tissue, have a quicker recovery time, and have a lower risk of infection. But there are also several downsides, like getting a detailed look at tissues and the limitations surgeons have using external ultrasound probes and imaging scans taken before surgery. But this may be about to change thanks to new research, which presents a new option: optical ultrasound needles.


The needle is made up of two optical fibers: one creates ultrasonic pulses by give off short flashes of light, and the other detects the light that’s reflected by the body’s tissues. The use of ultrasounds are both inexpensive and deliver fast results. Richard Colchester, the author of the study, says the whole process happens “extremely quickly, giving an unprecedented real-time view of soft tissue.”


To ensure the needle would actually work, the team created a flexible black material that included a mesh of carbon nanotubes in the clinical grade silicone, which is applied to the optical fibre. These nanotubes absorbed pulsed laser light, which creates an ultrasound wave. They also created highly sensitive optical fibre sensors based on polymer optical microresonators that detect the ultrasound waves.


The Researchers believe using this optical ultrasound needle is ideal for surgeries where there are small tissues, which are difficult to see. It also gives them real-time imaging that helps them differentiate between tissues at deep depths reducing high risk during procedures. This can reduce the chances of complications during surgeries, such as procedures involving the heart.


The team has tested the ultrasound needle during heart surgeries on pigs, and the results are looking good. They’re hoping to test it out in other types of clinical applications that require minimally invasive techniques. It seems it’ll be a while before this technique can be used on humans, but researchers are working on it. Hopefully, this will help take some of the pain and anxiety out of minimally invasive procedures.



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