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Tiny tech gets to the heart of disease

Tiny tech gets to the heart of disease

Rodney kirk, Jiawen Li. Credit: University of Adelaide.

A team of researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) has developed the world’s tiniest endoscope.

Lead researcher Dr Jiawen Li, an associate investigator and Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at CNBP at The University of Adelaide, says that the endoscope will help clinicians better understand the causes and progression of heart disease.

In Australia, 157 people are hospitalised every day due to heart attacks. Around one in 10 of these people are likely to be readmitted for a second one within a year. The endoscope can help detect and prevent these secondary heart attacks by assessing plaque in the arteries after the initial attack.

At the heart of the endoscope is a tiny 3D-printed lens on the end of an optical fibre less than half a millimetre wide, including a protective catheter sheath. This means it can safely fit inside a narrow artery.

‘We used the technology to take 3D scans of atherosclerotic plaques inside blood vessel walls,’ Dr Li says. ‘These are a common cause of heart attacks.’

'These miniaturised endoscopes, which act like tiny cameras, allow doctors to see how these plaques form and explore new ways to treat them.'

Dr Simon Thiele, Group Leader, Optical Design and Simulation at the University of Stuttgart, was responsible for fabricating the tiny lens.

'Until now, we couldn’t make high quality endoscopes this small.'

'Using 3D micro-printing, we are able to print complicated lenses that are too small to see with the naked eye,' Dr Thiele said.


The team has used 3D micro-printing to develop the world’s smallest, flexible scope for looking inside blood vessels.

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