Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), led by Professor Mark Hutchinson and based at The University of Adelaide, have developed a revolutionary new medical device that will make critical neurosurgery safer.

A tiny imaging probe, encased within a brain biopsy needle, lets surgeons ‘see’ at-risk blood vessels as they insert the needle, allowing them to avoid causing bleeds that can potentially be fatal.

The device contains a tiny fibre-optic camera, the size of a human hair, shining infrared light and allowing the needle to see where it is going. This is combined with smart image processing software to detect vessels before they are damaged and alert the surgeon.

The smart needle project, led by Professor Robert McLaughlin, Chair of Biophotonics at CNBP, is a collaboration with The University of Western Australia and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. Professor Christopher Lind, Consultant Neurosurgeon, successfully demonstrated the smart needle in a pilot trial with 12 patients undergoing neurosurgery.

The smart needle will be ready for formal clinical trials in 2018, and the CNBP is pursuing international medical device manufacturers to commercialise the smart needles in Australia.

The ‘smart needle’ is an outstanding example of how ARC-funded research can translate into real world benefits—in this case, commercially for the medical technology industry and, ultimately, improved health services for Australians.

Image: Team members testing the smart needle in surgery.
Image courtesy: The University of Adelaide