It’s not quite Inner Space or Fantastic Voyage but it’s not far off. Research Associate Professor Robert McLaughlin and Professor David Sampson are leading a team from UWA’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering to create Australia’s (and possibly the world’s) tiniest imaging probe to assess burns victims.
Researchers Péter Fejes, Rodney Kirk and Bryden Quirk are designing and building the imaging probe as part of a collaboration between UWA and internationally renowned burns expert Professor Fiona Wood, with funding from Chevron.
Once complete, the tiny imaging probe will be used to monitor the airways of burns patients, providing early detection of breathing complications that can occur in patients with severe burns.
UWA Researcher Péter Fejes said the tiny imaging probe, only 1.3 millimetres high and .6 millimetres across, could also be used for other medical purposes due to its non-intrusive nature.
“One of the problems we currently see with burns patients is that they can suffer terrible swelling during initial treatment. If their airway swells enough, they can stop breathing. Often, doctors need to insert a tube down the patient’s throat to keep it open,” Mr Fejes said.
“At the moment it’s very difficult to monitor the amount of swelling they are experiencing. The imaging probe however, will be able to see inside the airway clearly, so doctors can monitor any problems and stop them before they become serious.”
Mr Fejes said the imaging probe would be particularly useful in disaster situations, when there are multiple burns patients.
“With this new technology, they can see in advance which patients need the most urgent care. I’m really enjoying being involved in a project of this significance for the medical industry, which will change the way we can treat burns patients in Australia.”
The imaging probe is being built using new high tech 3D printing technology from Germany to create the small lens for the probe to capture images, which is about the same size as a grain of rice. It is the first time anyone in the world has tried to 3D print a lens of its kind, and opens up new possibilities for future medical devices.
One of the most challenging aspects of the project for the researchers is that they are dealing with something so tiny, that the human eye cannot see it clearly, so highly specialised equipment is needed to put it together.
The team expects to finish making the imaging probe later this year and start testing it early next year on patients.
Burns expert, Professor Fiona Wood, said the project had exciting prospects for medical research, particularly for burns patients in Australia.
“This technology will give us new insights into how to treat burns patients so that we can improve their survival and speed their recovery,” Professor Wood said.
“It’s very exciting to be part of a project where medicine meets engineering, and we’ve already planned the initial studies for this new probe. The support from Chevron to make this project possible is really opening up new opportunities for us, and will make a real difference for burns patients.”
The funding provided by Chevron to the Fiona Wood Foundation is supporting Professors McLaughlin and Sampson’s project along with two other pioneering research projects to explore new field based burn care treatment and translate these findings into practical solutions. The outcomes of the funding partnership will have extensive applications in the broader community, industry and emergency response.