The Institute for Basic Science (IBS) said its research team developed an ultrathin, flexible endoscope that is thinner than a needle.

The research team, led by Choi Won-shik at the Center for Molecular Spectroscopy and Dynamics at IBS and Professor Choi Young-woon of bioengineering at Korea University, said they were able to obtain 3D holographic images of a biological structure smaller than that of bacteria using this endoscope.

IBS noted that the ultrathin endoscope raises the possibility of early diagnosis of diseases with a minimal incision to reach the lung, capillaries, the brain, and the nervous system that used to be difficult to access with conventional endoscopes.

Experimental setup (a) and image formation principle (b). (Credit: Nature Communications)
Experimental setup (a) and image formation principle (b). (Credit: Nature Communications)

The research team used a bare fiber bundle as thin as the 200-μm diameter to design a lensless holographic imaging configuration and selectively detected weak reflections from biological tissues, according to their paper.

This was a “critical step” for obtaining label-free free endoscopic reflectance imaging, the research team said.

The diameter of the endoscope is 350 μm, thinner than that of a needle with 500 μm.

The latest endoscope is capable of providing microscopic-level high-resolution imaging, which cannot be done with a conventional fiber optic bundle endoscope.

The research team said they demonstrated endoscopic reflectance imaging of unstained villi of a rat intestine that are completely invisible to conventional endoscopes.

“The proposed endoscope will expedite a more accurate and earlier diagnosis than before with minimal complications,” the research team said.

The study was published in the Aug. 2 online issue of Nature Communications.

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