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Australian scientists have developed what they claim is the world’s smallest hand-held microscope.
It fits inside a needle and gives surgeons a better view of what is happening inside a patient’s body. The aim is to detect cancer cells often missed during operations to remove breast cancer tumours.
Researchers at the University of Western Australia are using the microscope to capture 3D images with a tiny lens, less than a third of a millimetre wide. The device is now being tested on human tissue samples.
“The goal of our research has been to make something to help the surgeons so that, during surgery, they can make sure they’re getting all the cancer out,” said Robert McLaughlin, Associate professor at the University of Western Australia.
Professor Christobel Saunders, a surgeon and breast cancer specialist, says it is particularly useful for getting a better view at the edge of an area being operated on, to make sure no cancer cells are left behind.
It is hoped the device will dramatically reduce the number of breast cancer patients who need more than one operation to remove deadly tumours.
“We really can see at a microscopic level where there is tumour. So it’s almost like an ultrasound picture, but at a microscopic level,” she says.
Scientists hope the invention will prove useful beyond cancer operations. Surgeons working on brain and lung disease are also interested in it.
“If we can understand what’s going on in the lungs with diseases like emphysema, then maybe we could help scientists develop better drugs for treating those sorts of diseases,” said Professor McLaughlin.
Trials are expected in operating theatres within two years. If they are successful, its inventors hope the device could become commonplace in operating theatres around the world within a decade.