A new fibre optic medical tool is revolutionising our understanding of serious but socially embarrassing digestive illnesses, such as constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome. Thanks to this device, medical scientists can see for the first time the coordinated, fine and complex muscular activity of the human digestive system in action.
CSIRO optical physicist Dr John Arkwright, together with Dr Philip Dinning, of Flinders University, collected a 2011 Eureka Prize for their creation of the fibre optic catheter, which gleans information about digestive function by measuring pressure.
“Measuring pressure changes tells us about the patterns of muscle contraction that are happening, both in a healthy gut and when something goes wrong,” says John.
Conventional catheters record pressures deep within the colon, with sensors placed every 10 centimetres. While they can sense large sweeping muscular contractions through the bowel, they don’t have the spatial resolution to detect finer movements.
In contrast, the fibre optic catheter has up to 144 sensors spaced 10 millimetres apart. These sensors are designed to reflect back specific colours of light to indicate pressure changes. The resulting spectrum provides an unprecedented level of detailed information about the muscular activity of the bowel.
“The great advantage of optical fibres is their ability to carry enormous amounts of information in a thin and highly flexible fibre,” John says. “As you can imagine, it’s much more comfortable for patients.”
“I’m originally a telecommunications engineer with no medical background. It’s exciting to see the same technology I’ve used in submarine cables being used in a completely different way in human health.”
Photo:Dr John Arkwright, of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering (left) and Dr Philip Dinning from Flinders University won the Innovative Use of Technology award at the 2011 Eureka Prizes for their fibre-optic catheter work.
Credit: Australian Museum Eureka Prizes/247 Studios
Photo: FIBRE OPTIC TECHNNOLOGY IS HELPING JOHN ARKWRIGHT UNDERSTAND OUR DIGESTIVE FUNCTION.
CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, John Arkwright, Tel: +61 2 9413 7064, firstname.lastname@example.org,