St Andrews shines new light on vital medical procedures

Thursday 30 August 2012

Scientists at the University of St Andrews have made a breakthrough in fibre optic research which could allow doctors to see inside some of the hardest to reach parts of the human body with imaging devices no thicker than a human hair.

Dr Tomáš Cižmár, Research Fellow in the School of Medicine and Professor Kishan Dholakia of the School of Physics and Astronomy have developed a technique which for the first time has allowed the transmission of accurate images along a single strand of fibre optic cable.

Until now, attempts to use such narrow fibres to transmit images had always resulted in randomised or entirely scrambled signals. Dr Cižmár and Prof Dholakia however have found a way to decode the scrambled light to construct a clear and true picture.

Their breakthrough holds out the hope of the development of new, inexpensive and minimally invasive imaging devices and scopes which can “see” in hard to reach places. It could be of particular benefit in neuroscience and other branches of medicine and science where the area under study is either delicate or very difficult to reach.

Fibres that can support multiple modes of light normally scatter light and produce random, unpredictable patterns at their output. Ordinarily this is a problem for imaging, as the image is distorted as it travels, and is lost on transmission.

However, the St Andrews scientists discovered that if the randomisation of light within the fibre can be characterised, the way the images are scrambled can be predicted. In turn, the output light can be modulated to reverse the randomisation and reveal the original image.

By careful modulation of the input imaging light field, they were also able to select the depth of focus of the system, circumventing the need for focussing optics and allowing for a dynamic, real-time adjustment of the imaging system.

Dr Cižmár said: “Holographic control of randomized light signals is a young but very progressive discipline. It is only a few years since the first experiments but we have already witnessed a number of immensely promising achievements some of them originating in St Andrews. Our new contribution represents a further extension of this branch to the Bio-medical community and we are looking forward to see what a further advancement of these techniques may bring in the future. It is a very exciting time.”

The University of St Andrews hopes to build on this research and is currently fundraising to support Biomedical Research in Analytical Imaging and Neurophotonic Science (BRAINS) as part of its 600th Anniversary Campaign. This new collaborative venture will allow this research to be taken to the next level – that of real life applications – opening the door to improved diagnosis and understanding of a wide range of diseases.

Note to Editors

For images please contact the press office.

Dr Tomáš Cižmár is available today on 07715 80 2223.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108/ 0771 414 0559.
Ref: (fibre optics 30/08/12)
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