Optical Technologies: The Medical All-Rounder Called Light
According to the German industry association, Spectaris, the second largest market for optical technologies in Germany is the medical technology segment. In 2005, 2.9 billion Euros of annual turnover was generated in Germany, which includes eyeglass lenses, microscopes and laser as well as diagnostic scanner for the laboratory. Estimates for the area endoscopes and supplies state that the turnover regarding the international market will double within ten years.
Endoscopes are going to play an ever more important role in future. “The technical advances allow for ever more flexible endoscopes”, Herbert Stepp from the Laser Research Center at the University Munich, Germany explains. This is important since physicians want to reach distant parts within the body minimally invasive. The only catch being that the more flexible an endoscope is the less space it exhibits for optical systems. The solution could be the chip on the tip technique: Instead of filming via camera through a stiff tube as is done with a rigid endoscope a very small camera the size of a pinhead is being placed at the tip of the endoscope in order to look at the tissue at close range. “That way, we can achieve a high image quality equivalent to a rigid endoscope but in the body of a flexible one”, Stepp says.
The Microscope Enters the Body
Endoscopes may that way be ready to take over more jobs with one explicit aim: “We want to make visible what we cannot see with our eyes”, Stepp describes. The technologies used by the pathologist in the laboratory for examining tissue samples need to be placed on the tip of the endoscope. That already works with confocal microscopy, which can be of help diagnosing colon cancer. Physicians moisten colon tissue with a contrasting agent and then a tiny probe containing confocal microscopy is pushed on location through the endoscope. A laser penetrates the tissue to a depth of 100 micrometers and...
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