A microscope in a needle

A microscope that fits inside a hypodermic needle is the latest surgical tool in the fight against cancer.


Developed by a team of researchers at The University of Western Australia, the technology will help surgeons remove all traces of cancer during breast surgery and help avoid damage to blood vessels during brain surgery.

Robert McLaughlin and David Sampson are putting a microscope in a needle. Credit: The Scene Team
Robert McLaughlin and David Sampson are putting a microscope in a needle. Credit: The Scene Team

“Our microscope-in-a-needle will transfer microscopic imaging from the lab into the human body,” says David Sampson, Director of the Optical+Biomedical Engineering Laboratory.

Robert McLaughlin, who leads the research team, explains that “by working closely with surgeons and sitting in on operations, we’ve heard firsthand accounts of what surgeons find difficult, and what doesn’t quite work well enough.”

The team combined this feedback with their knowledge as medical engineers to make improvements to the technology.

Surgeons will hopefully use the microscope-in-a- needle as part of in vivo research trials within the next two years, with wide use in hospitals around five years away.

Twenty-five per cent of breast cancer sufferers require further treatment after having their lump removed, as cancer cells are sometimes left behind.

The microscope will allow surgeons to undertake a much more detailed search for any missed cancer cells, and to remove them immediately. This will reduce the need for more invasive follow-up surgery or further treatment.

In brain surgery, it will be used to check for nearby blood vessels before taking a biopsy, a procedure that until now has risked causing a bleed on the brain.

The microscope-in-a-needle team was a winner of the 2014 WA Innovator of the Year Award.

For more information: The University of Western Australia, David Sampson, david.sampson@uwa.edu.au, Robert McLaughlin, robert.mclaughlin@uwa.edu.au, obel.ee.uwa.edu.au

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