Researchers at the University of Washington are developing a system to acquire 3D images of the interior of the bladder in order to help detect bladder cancer. They use an ultrathin 1.5 mm wide laser endoscope that follows a spiraling path to image the whole interior. Software checks that the entire surface has been covered and stitches together all images to create a full 3D panorama of the bladder interior. The researchers want to recreate a Google Earth-like experience with a fully zoomable 3D surface. The plan is to automate the scan as much as possible so it can be performed by a nurse or technician and can be reviewed by a urologist at a different time or at a remote location.
Development will still take a few more years, the laser endoscope is still awaiting FDA approval for use in humans (the image shown here comes from the inside of a stained pig’s bladder). Preliminary results of 3D panoramas from a commercially available endoscope inserted into a painted glass bulb, a stained pig bladder and a normal human bladder were presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.
From a University of Washington press release:
The UW software could be used with any endoscope, though the team sees particular benefit in combining it with its flexible endoscope. The UW scope is just 1.5 mm wide, about half the size of its smallest competitor (most bladder scopes are as thick as a pencil, while the UW’s is like a strand of angel hair pasta with a tip the size of a grain of rice). It captures finer-grained images than existing flexible endoscopes. The tiny size is possible because of a novel design that swings a single optical fiber back and forth to scan a color image pixel by pixel.
The tip of the UW device will contain a steering mechanism that directs the movement of the scope during the internal exam.
Another advantage of using the UW scope in urology is that it can detect newly approved diagnostic cancer-cell markers that are best seen using low-power lasers, which are already used in the UW device.