World’s smallest handheld microscope in a needle

Fri Sep 20, 2013 12:28:56

Australian scientists have developed the smallest handheld microscope that fits inside a needle and can even pinpoint those cancer cells that are often missed during operations while removing breast cancer tumors.

University of Western Australia researchers were using what is said to be the world's smallest handheld microscope to capture 3D images using a tiny lens, less than a third of a millimeter wide, which fits inside a needle.

The device is currently being tested on human tissue samples.

Robert McLaughlin said it could help prevent the trauma of repeat surgery in breast cancer patients.

"About one in four women who go for a lumpectomy — so that's where you take out the cancer and leave the rest of the breast — have to go back for more surgery because there are some cancer cells left in there," he said.

"The goal of our research is to make something to help the surgeons so that during surgery they can make sure they're getting all the cancer out," he said adding the device has a range of two millimeters from the needle.

Christobel Saunders, a surgeon and breast cancer specialist at the Royal Perth Hospital, said it is particularly useful for looking at the edge of an area being operated on, to make sure no cancer cells are left behind.

"Tumors can produce very small areas just outside the main tumor mass that we simply can't see or feel," she said.

McLaughlin said pathology testing will always be required after surgery to remove cancer, even if the needle microscope makes operations more accurate.

The quality of the images produced so far has drawn interest from surgeons looking at brain and lung disease.

But for now, the most promising results appear to be in identifying breast cancer cells, and making the microscope safe and effective is paramount.