Tiny, hair-sized probe travels deep into lungs to solve disease mysteries

17 Jun 2019

Microscopic image of the probe. Image: Dr Michael Tanner/Herriot-Watt University, University of Edinburgh

Researchers working to uncover the hidden world deep within our lungs have developed a tiny, hair-sized probe with great abilities.

Lung disease remains one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world. Despite major advances in our understanding of these conditions, we still know little about how it develops in patients with pneumonia or lung injury.

To help find some answers, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have developed a tiny, hair-sized probe that can travel deep into the lung and measure the key indicators of tissue damage.

In a paper published to Scientific Reports, the scientists said the optical fibre is about 0.2mm in diameter but holds 19 different sensors. This offers fast, accurate measurements and can cater to more sensors being built into it.

Each sensor can measure different indicators in tissues, such as acidity and oxygen levels, providing important information on the body’s reaction to disease processes. Importantly, the technology is widely applicable to other regions of the body and could be used to aid the understanding of inflammatory and bacterial diseases.

Speaking of the probe, Dr Michael Tanner of the team said: “This research is a great example of collaboration across disciplines to tackle healthcare challenges.

“These new methods, if taken to clinic, will lead to novel insights in disease biology. Our aim now is to expand the number of unique sensors on this miniaturised platform to provide even more information.”

Elsewhere in the world of medtech, a team of researchers from Binghamton University recently demonstrated a small bacteria-powered, paper-based biobattery that can connect to the internet for short durations.

The team behind its creation said it will be part of the ‘internet of disposable things’, and represents a “new paradigm for the rapid evolution of wireless sensor networks”, especially within medical devices.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic