Engineers design new optical microprobe to detect subsurface organ abnormalities

DURHAM, N.C. -- Photonics and ultrasound engineering researchers from Duke University and The George Washington University have collaborated to design an optical scanner miniaturized enough to be inserted into the body, where its light beams could someday detect abnormalities hidden in the walls of the colon, bladder or esophagus.

The experimental device, called an "electrostatic micromachine scanning mirror for optical coherence tomography," is described in an article published in the April 15, 2003, issue of the research journal Optics Letters. Once approved for use in hospitals and clinics, it would provide a new capability for endoscopy procedures.

Using tiny electrically activated artificial muscle fibers to vibrate a goldcovered mirror only about 2 millimeters wide, the prototype device broadcasts a special kind of quasi-laser light that can not only scan internal organ surfaces but also penetrate just beneath the surface.

Key researchers in the miniaturization effort are Jason Zara, an assistant professor of engineering and applied science at George Washington, and Stephen Smith, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering in Durham, N.C.

"This new device has shown great promise for new diagnostic applications," said Zara, Smith's former graduate student at Duke who is lead author of the Optics Letter report. Co-authors include Smith; Joseph Izatt, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering; and Izatt's former graduate student Siavash Yazdanfar and former postdoctoral research associate K. Divakar Rao.

Izatt, who leads biophotonics research activities at the Pratt School's Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems, is a leader in the budding optical scanning technology that Zara and Smith have scaled down to fit into catheters.

Zara and Smith designed and fabricated a system that includes a tiny mirror that vibrate

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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